Overview of Standards and Accreditation
For 50 years the accreditation process has grown to keep pace with changes in the camp industry, expectations of the public, and the challenges of operating a business in today's highly regulated society.
American Camp Association standards help you with every aspect of your camp management and operation:
- Core/Foundational: Standards included in this section are “core” to a camp accredited by the American Camp Association. Users expect clean and repaired facilities and to be treated with respect and dignity. For day, resident, and short-term camps, clearly articulated goals, outcomes, and activities designed to assist in camper development are core to guiding the camp’s focus and programming.
- Administration: Administrative standards include policies and procedures for which key administrative staff are most typically responsible for writing and distributing. Topics include transportation, risk management, emergency procedures, policies related to camp staff, and various program areas. For some key topics, the writing and maintaining of the policy/procedure is addressed in this section of standards, and the training and implementation of the procedure is in the staff training standards.
- Facilities: The camp’s facilities, safety protocols, vehicles, and foodservice safety should promote health and safety and minimize risk. Facilities make an important contribution to the overall experience and significantly affect the safety of participants.
- Health and Wellness: All camps need a well-thought-out healthcare plan that provides for the needs of campers, staff, and rental groups. Potential health risks to the clientele need to be identified and evaluated, and plans for prevention and care need to be specified.
- Staff Training, Qualifications, Supervision Standards: Staff qualifications, training, supervision ratios, and procedures. Camp personnel are expected to assume many responsibilities, deliver a wide range of services, and complete numerous tasks in an environment of constant close human interaction, all with quality results. Some persons may work with the site operation, some with the program, and some with both.
- Program Design: The camp provides program activities as a means of achieving its developmental goals and outcomes, conducted in ways that protect the health, safety, and well-being of its campers.
- Program Aquatics: Swimming and boating activities take place in and on pools, ponds, lakes, rivers, ocean fronts, and creeks. Safety is a central concern in all aquatic activities, and the purpose of the aquatic standards is to set an expectation for trained and certified supervision (scored in the Staff and Supervision section), appropriate safety precautions, and well-planned emergency procedures.
Compliance with the mandatory standards is required for accreditation to be granted, regardless of scores achieved in other areas of the standards. If a standard has more than one “part” only the mandatory part of the standard is listed. The complete standard along with the Contextual Education can be found in the full Accreditation Process Guide, 2019 Edition. Current fee-paying camps can also access the standards through Accreditation Portal.
A variety of materials are available to help you understand and comply with ACA standards.
What Accreditation Can and Can't Do
While standards focus on health, safety, and risk management practices, accreditation cannot guarantee that the camper will be absolutely free from harm. Accreditation can indicate to the public that the camp administration has voluntarily allowed its practices to be compared with the standards established by professionals in the camping industry. At least once every three years an outside team of trained camping professionals visits the camp to verify compliance with the standards.
Unlike inspections by state licensing bodies, ACA accreditation is voluntary. ACA cannot close or otherwise penalize an entity that is not meeting its accreditation criteria, except for the removal of the accreditation status. Licensing focuses on the enforcement of minimum standards. Accreditation focuses on education and evaluation of one's operation and can help you go beyond the minimum requirements of licensing.
ACA standards identify practices considered basic to quality camping. However, they do not require all programs to look alike. The ACA accreditation program serves a broad range of facilities from primitive to highly developed and programs from basic to highly advanced. Each will have addressed in its own way the concerns identified by the standards.
Many types of camps and programs seek ACA accreditation such as camps that operate day and resident camp sessions, travel and trip programs, school camps and environmental education programs, and camps with special program emphases (e.g., sports, academic, therapeutic, religious). Many of these camps also offer facilities and services to other program operators.
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