Each year, the ACA Camp Crisis Hotline team identifies several case studies for a more in-depth look. These cases serve as examples for other camps to use in staff training and the development of their own risk management plans. Our hope is that by understanding the actual crisis events encountered by other camps, your camp can learn and prepare your own crisis management plans.
Case Study 1 — Camper-to- Camper Abuse
A camp director called the Hotline because he had just learned that a 13-year-old boy sexually assaulted another 13-year-old boy in a tent as a part of a trip and travel program. Three other boys were present in the tent, and staff were in a nearby tent. The director was not on-site, and heard of the events after the fact from the camper who was assaulted. From what the camper shared with the director, there were repeated assaults from the primary perpetrator over time, and the other campers witnessed them. The camper who committed the assault had already been removed from the program because staff found him looking at and sharing pornography on his cell phone, and now the director wondered what he should do for the victim. He asked if ACA provided names and contact information of mental health professionals he could call to meet with the camper.
Questions and Considerations — Camper-to-Camper Abuse
- Has the camp notified the parents of the victimized camper? Have they notified the parents of the aggressor?
- Has the camp contacted the physician that reviews their camp protocols for recommendations of mental health professionals?
- Has camp considered contacting their local school district or faithbased organizations to help identify a mental health professional?
- Has the camp reported the incident to Child Protective Services(CPS)?
- Has the camp contacted the organization's governing body for advice, both for their expectation of appropriate legal counsel and notification of insurance carrier?
- Does the camp have a communication plan in place for staff and other families?
- Has the director considered self-care techniques to manage the stress of the situation?
Resources — Camper-to-Camper Abuse
- ACA's Child Abuse Prevention Resources
- Centers for Disease Control: Preventing Youth Violence
- Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Assault
- Stop It Now! Preventing Sexual Abuse Among Children & Youth
Case Study 2 — Inappropriate Behavior by CIT (technically a camper)
A camp director shared that a 17-yearold male counselor in training (CIT) had been repeatedly using inappropriate language with younger campers and allowed some campers to sit in his lap. There were also suspicions that the CIT had taken a special interest in an 11-year-old male and attempted to lure the camper away from the group. Various counselors have confirmed hearing the inappropriate language and have noticed the 11-year-old sitting on the lap of the CIT. The camp director shared that during staff training the camp covered the following: It is only appropriate for staff to touch campers on the shoulder and only with the camper's permission; shoulder hugs are appropriate; it is never appropriate to allow a camper to sit in the lap of a counselor/CIT; counselors/CITs should never carry a camper; and counselors/CITs should never be alone with a camper out of sight of others. Despite this training, and repeated reminders, the CIT continually allowed (and asked) the camper to sit in his lap and the CIT had "private conversations" with the camper. Due to the behavior of the CIT, the counselors had to continually monitor his behavior and never allow the CIT to be alone with any camper.
The CIT director and the camp director felt he had "fair warning" and they have determined the CIT should be sent home. The director wanted to talk about what else they might need to consider and what information they should be sharing with the CIT's parents as to why he was sent home.
Questions and Considerations — Inappropriate Behavior by CIT (technically a camper)
- Has the camp reviewed their training policies and procedures related to "appropriate touch" for both campers and staff?
- What is the message for the CIT's parents? Should it include a statement related to his violation of the camper interaction/behavior guidelines for all staff and CITs?
- Has the camp talked with legal counsel to determine if their statement needed to be more specific and, what if any, additional actions they might consider?
- Has the camp talked with the 11-year-old about his awareness of the situation? If so, have they considered having at least two counselors present and starting with a simple question such as "we see the CIT 'X' seems to be around you a fair amount. How does that make you feel?" The response to the question would help guide the discussion from there.
- Has the camp decided whether to contact the parents of the 11-year-old?
- Has the camp considered implementing a behavior contract for inappropriate behavior at all levels (campers and staff)? This might include a verbal discussion, an initial written warning to include what change in behavior is requested, etc.
- Has the camp considered complimenting the staff on their keen observation and actions in this situation?
Resources — Inappropriate Behavior by CIT (technically a camper)
- 20 Insider Tips for Working with Adolescents at Camp
- Are CIT Programs Worth the Risk?
- Training Staff in Child Protection Issues
Case Study 3 — Mystery Cell Phone in the Shower House
A camp director called after a situation unfolded in their camp. A female staff member found a cell phone in a laundry basket in the shower house, and the video recording light was active. The camp director and female staff member did not know if anything had been captured on the video recording. The phone was later claimed "missing" by a male junior counselor (minor). After confronting the junior counselor, he confessed that he was responsible for planting the cell phone video recording device in the female shower house. The camp director wanted to know what steps they needed to take since they couldn't confirm that anything was actually caught on video.
Questions & Considerations — Mystery Cell Phone in the Shower House
- Should the video be viewed, and if so, by whom? The advice of legal counsel is important in determining how to address this type of privacy breach.
- If minors are in the video, then as mandated reporters, CPS should be notified.
- What is the communication plan if campers or minors are in the video?
- Should the camp notify the police?
- What are the camps policies and practices on boundaries for single gender areas like shower houses, changing rooms, cabins, etc., and how are staff trained on these policies?
- What is the cell phone use policy at camp?
- Should the camp notify the parent(s) of the minor involved in the filming?
- Contact your insurance company to discuss additional liability scenarios.
Resources — Mystery Cell Phone in the Shower House
- A Cyberbullying Protection Plan
- Cyberbullying Research Center
- Employment Laws in Each State: www.dol.gov/whd/state/state.htm and/or www.youthrules.gov/
- Smile! You're on my Cell Phone: Camera Phones and Privacy
Case Study 4 — Transgender Camper
The caller runs a camp for girls and had just learned that one of their registered campers for the next session is transgender. A camper formerly came to camp as a female but now identifies as male, prefers male pronouns, and has changed his name. The camp is trans-friendly for those that identify as female and is struggling to find ways to accommodate this camper.
Questions & Considerations — Transgender Camper
- What is the camp's mission and philosophy regarding accommodating transgender campers and/or staff?
- What would physically have to happen for camp to be able to accommodate a transgender person?
- How could the camp protect this camper's privacy and dignity?
- What kind of communication would need to occur with the parents? If the parents do not know, consider a no "outing" policy to ensure safety of the camper. What can the camp do to make this an emotionally safe experience?
- Have the camp's enrollment requirements been reviewed by legal counsel?
- How will the camp handle angry parent/caregiver calls if they find out their child was in a cabin with someone who's transgender?
- Does camp have any gender-neutral bathrooms or changing areas or areas that could become such?
- Has the camp asked the parents of the child how the camp can best support the camper?
- Does the camp have protocols for who needs to know about individual transgender campers?
- Does the camp offer gender-inclusive programming – allowing campers an opportunity to step outside rigid gender norms?
Resources — Transgender Camper
- ACA's LGBTQ Toolkit
- 20/20 Toolbox: Transgender Youth — The Role Camps Might Play
- Anti-Discrimination Laws — Map by State, Transgender Law Center
- Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning Resources
- How Can Camps Support Transgender Youth?
- Talking Transgender at Camp (webinar w/ focus on campers)
- Transgender Staff at Camp (webinar)
- Transgender Youth National Association of Secondary School Principals
Case Study 5 — Domestic Violence at Camp
Camp director called because they had a male kitchen staff person who assaulted his wife while at camp. The wife and a 5-month-old baby were living at camp with the husband. A staff person was walking through camp and heard shouting coming from their lodging. As the staffer got within sight of the lodging, the wife stated to him, "He hit me." The husband then stated, "She hit me first." Somehow, it was disclosed that it was a back-handed slap. The wife left to go get some space. The husband went to work his kitchen shift. The staff person that came upon this incident caught up with the wife, who said she was fine although her face showed some bruising. The staffer shared the incident with the program and camp directors, who offered her alternate housing that her husband would be restricted from entering. She declined the housing and was not willing to file a police report. The director wanted to know if he could terminate the husband's employment.
Questions & Considerations — Domestic Violence at Camp
- Has the director sought the opinion of the camp's legal counsel or HR professional to assure that camp is not exposing itself to any risk, especially if camp moves forward with termination?
- If the camp proceeds with termination, what will they do to keep the wife safe (physically) should he become agitated?
- Regardless of whether the husband is terminated, the camp should consider having a mental health and/or a domestic abuse counselor come to camp to speak with the wife and help her feel supported so that when and if she is ready to stop the abuse, she knows where to turn for help.
- How can you help? On average, it takes domestic violence survivors seven times to leave the relationship for good, so if it's physically and emotionally safe for you, try to continue offering support in any way you can. Believing and supporting them can be a major factor in helping them stay safe or helping them find empowerment to leave when they're ready.
Resources — Domestic Violence at Camp
- Domestic Violence Awareness Project
- National Network to End Domestic Violence
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
Contributed by the ACA Hotline Team: Tori Barnes, Kim Brosnan, Laurie Browne, Abby Burbank, and Rhonda Mickelson.