ACA Camp Crisis Hotline — Annual Review 2013

October 2013

Hotline Phone Number: 800-573-9019

“Hello. We have a young female camper who has been ill and just revealed to our nurse that two days before she came to camp she had an abortion without her parents’ knowledge. She is so ill that she needs more medical help than our staff can provide. When we call the parents to talk about getting her more care, what do we tell them? Do we have to tell them about the abortion or do we have to keep confidential what we know about the abortion?”

“Hi, I’m calling because our staff witnessed a mother punching her son during a family camp event on property. We are not sure if we should get involved and call the authorities.”

“Can you help? Our pool director just quit, and in our state, you must have a certified pool director on site in order to keep your pool open. It’s hot and we need to be able to use the pool.”

“We don’t know what to do. We have a camper we must release from camp due to threatening behavior, but his parents are refusing to come and pick him up.”

“Please help. One of our international cultural exchange visitors committed suicide and we cannot get anyone from the agency that placed him at our camp on the phone.”

These examples are just a few of the calls that the American Camp Association’s Camp Crisis Hotline fielded this year. Every day of the year, the Hotline team is available to help camps in crisis by talking through their situation, discussing options, and connecting them with the resources and experts they need to successfully handle their situation. While the Hotline team is not comprised of medical or legal experts, we do have a highly trained staff and extensive experience — since 1985 — serving as an independent third party and “listening ear” to help callers evaluate issues related to their crises. Each fall, the Hotline team reviews the trends, lessons learned, and resources used during the past year and develops this overview to share with all camps so they might learn from the experiences of others and hopefully be better prepared should a crisis situation occur at their camp.

The Hotline resource main page is — here you will find links to our most popular resources, previous annual reviews of lessons learned, and links to other helpful resources.

This year, the calls were divided into the following categories:

Health and medical issues: 30%
Personnel/staff issues: 22%
*Business issues: 11%
Camper behavior: 10%
Allegations of abuse at home: 8%
Allegations of camper-to-camper abuse: 4%
Allegations of camper abuse by the public: 3%
Parent behavior: 3%
Allegations of staff-to-camper abuse: <1%
Miscellaneous: 8%

*Business issues is a new category for the Hotline summary. While busi¬ness issues were noted in previous years, this new stand-alone category emerged in 2013.

Annual Review

Health and Medical Issues — 30%

While the ACA Hotline team is not staffed by legal or medical experts, we do have the experience to direct camps to the best information and support available. We partner with organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Association of Camp Nurses to provide health-related education and resources for the camp community.

For the fifth year in a row, the largest number of calls to the Hotline involved health and medical issues. While the percentage of this type of call has dropped from over 50% to this year’s figure of 30%, health and medical calls still remain the most common Hotline call. However, the breadth of health/medical calls was expansive, so a clear “top” issue (i.e., bed bugs, lice, MRSA infections, etc.) did not emerge.

A new issue, reproductive health, emerged as a trend that had not been on our previous lists. This issue included young teenage campers who were pregnant, thought they might be pregnant, or revealed they had just had an abortion, as well as other related health issues for these female campers. This topic was such a prevalent issue that the Hotline team asked our legal consultants to provide additional information regarding these sensitive issues. See the article “She Thinks She’s Pregnant — What Do We Do?” for an in-depth look at the legal issues related to female teenagers, their reproductive health, and pregnancy.

The remainder of the health and medical calls ranged from questions about common childhood illnesses and infestations (whooping cough, lice, bed bugs) to more serious issues such as cutting, eating disorders, and a number of accidents resulting in injury. The common thread in the calls is that these camps did not have the health care expertise needed in the camp environment on staff or in ready access.


  1. Camp health care staff needs to be familiar with the most common childhood illnesses, infestations, and injuries. Finding properly credentialed health care staff is a challenge for many camps. For example, simply identifying someone who is an RN is not enough. Nurses that specialize in other areas (e.g., radiology nurses, operating room nurses) may not have the experience to identify common childhood illnesses, injuries, and infestations. If your only option is to hire someone inexperienced in these issues, be sure that they receive training and support prior to the camp season. The Association of Camp Nurses ( provides excellent resources and support. In addition, have your health care staff review ACA’s Hotline resource pages on medical issues ( and participate in health-related online courses and webinars through ACA’s Professional Development Center (
  2. The prevention and spread of disease starts before campers arrive. Parents need reminders about not sending sick children to camp. ACA has detailed eight critical points that camps can communicate to parents about this issue. Download and share the parent flyer, “A Healthy Camp Starts at Home,” available at Camps should also perform thorough health screenings on all incoming campers and initiate stringent hand washing and camp sanitation procedures.
  3. Understand your state’s laws regarding pregnant minors. As noted above, this was an important new trend in Hotline calls. Scenarios included campers wishing to have a pregnancy test administered without their parents’ knowledge, campers who were ill because of an abortion prior to camp without parental knowledge, and campers wishing to purchase their own pregnancy test. See "She Thinks She's Pregnant — What Do We Do?" for an article about this issue.
  4. Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is a highly contagious infection. Establish and maintain procedures for frequent hand washing and cleaning of areas that are frequently touched. Ensure that your health care staff understands the signs and symptoms of MRSA and techniques for the prevention of the spread of the infection. We were made aware of at least one camp that needed to shut down temporarily due to the spread of MRSA. An excellent resource is listed in the “Resources — Health and Medical Issues” section below.
  5. Require your health care staff to understand the laws in your state relevant to camp health service — including the distribution of medication. It is critically important that your staff understands the state laws relevant to health care in the camp setting. Some laws — such as those addressing the handling of prescription medication — vary greatly by state. Make sure your staff knows what is applicable at your camp — especially if your health care staff practices primarily in another state. (See Case Study Five.)
  6. All staff should be able to identify the signs of common illnesses and infestations. Frontline camp staff often has the greatest contact with campers and can pick up on the warning signs of illness or the indicators of infestation of pests such as lice and bedbugs. While they are not a replacement for your health care staff, frontline staff plays an important role in preventing the spread of illnesses and infestations. Consider having your entire staff take the ACA online course, “A Counselor’s Role in Healthcare” (, and then discuss specific strategies and practices your camp uses to respond to these issues.
  7. Create a health/medical support system. Before your camp season begins, identify health and medical resources you can access at a moment’s notice to assist you in whatever challenges come your way. Develop a clear health/medical support plan in writing, which will include not just your on-site health care staff, but the list of contacts you would phone in the event of the unexpected health/medical crisis (e.g., grief counselors, mental health professionals, dermatologists, dentists, female health specialists, etc.).


  • What would you do if a camper wants a pregnancy test performed by your camp health care staff without her parent’s consent?
  • What would you do if one of your staff commits suicide on camp property while off duty?
  • What would you do if a camper refuses to eat? (See Case Study Three.)
  • What would you do if you find lice in a camper’s hair as they are checking in to camp? What is your policy on lice? (Nits vs. no-nits? Send home vs. treat on-site?)
  • What would you do if it is reported to you that a camper is cutting herself?
  • What would you do if a staff member comes to you and tells you that they suspect they have a MRSA infection?


Personnel Issues — 22%

We continue to see a rise in the number of Hotline calls involving personnel issues. In some cases, camps are simply looking for resources to hire an emergency replacement staff person because of a resignation or termination. In other cases, camps are searching for resources to help them make legal decisions about the hiring/release of a staff person. Personnel-related calls accounted for a full 22% of the calls this year. Following are the lessons we continue to learn and the resources used most frequently this year.


  1. Understand the employment protection afforded in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA laws provide protection from discrimination in hiring and access for people with a broad spectrum of physical challenges. Craft your job descriptions with the assistance of your attorney and get legal advice before beginning your hiring process. Excellent resources are listed at the end of this section.
  2. Establish a robust screening process for all staff and volunteers. Your screening process should be multifaceted and include a criminal background check, voluntary disclosure statement, reference checks, verification of previous work, and a personal interview. See the resources that follow for advice and tips on how to conduct thorough screening for staff and volunteers.
  3. Before beginning any hiring process, determine your organization’s thresholds for acceptable criminal records in a criminal background check. Protecting the safety of those in your care must be your top priority. Serving in loco parentis, or “in the place of a parent,” camps and other youth-serving organizations need to use all the information at their disposal to screen applicants that will have access to children, youth, or vulnerable adults. Developing a threshold policy will allow you to comply with the law and protect the safety of everyone participating in your programs. Although some organizations have set policies not to hire anyone with a criminal record of any kind, ACA’s guidance is to establish a criminal background threshold for each position within your organization. Some states have already enacted laws regarding thresholds for individuals who work with children and vulnerable adults. At the same time, there are antidiscrimination laws that must be considered. It is not advisable for individuals with certain types of criminal records to work or volunteer for your organization. For example, the duties and responsibilities of a camp counselor position would not be suitable for someone whose criminal record contained multiple offenses against children. Therefore, by adhering to any relevant laws and establishing a threshold of unacceptable crimes for each staff or volunteer position, you will be able to more effectively use information obtained from criminal background checks in your hiring decisions. A threshold policy should always be developed working in conjunction with your legal counsel (see the resources that follow).
  4. If an employee or potential employee shares with you that they are transgendered or in the process of reassigning their gender, understand all the issues related to their employment and privacy. ACA continues to see a dramatic rise in the number of calls regarding a transgendered person and their employment (or participation as a camper) at camp. Camps want to know everything from “how do we accommodate transgendered individuals” to “are they protected by law and thus do we have to accommodate them?” There are no definitive answers here, but laws do vary by state so be sure to consult with your attorney. Arm yourself with the facts and options (see the resources that follow).
  5. Regardless of new state laws about marijuana use, it is still illegal to use, according to federal law. Medical marijuana is considered a “Schedule I” controlled substance under federal law. As an employer, generally you can terminate or refuse to hire an employee (or refuse to allow a camper to attend camp) who is currently using marijuana, whether for medical reasons or otherwise. (Special note: On August 29, 2013, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder informed the governors of Washington and Colorado that the Department of Justice would allow the states to create a regime that would regulate and implement the ballot initiatives that legalized the use of marijuana for adults in their state — but made clear that marijuana remains an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act and that federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce this statute. What this will mean for the employment law is yet to be seen.
  6. Have a back-up plan for staff coverage in an emergency or unexpected loss of staff. Supervision ratios are critical to ensuring the safety of your campers. In the event that you need to terminate the employment of staff because of an egregious situation, you do not want to be stuck between considering retaining a poorly performing employee because of your inability to cover supervision ratios — or firing and risking the safety of campers due to lack of supervision. Or, consider what you would do if you suddenly lost one or more key staff members — especially someone in a critical role such as your nurse or cook. Before the season begins, identify short-term options that you can turn to for coverage in an emergency. Consider how properly trained volunteers might help you if you suddenly find yourself short-staffed. Some camps have hired one extra “floater” staff member that can be trained and available when staff vacancies unexpectedly arise.
  7. Enforce your personnel policies. It’s not enough to have personnel policies — you must enforce them as well. Establish a clear understanding of what the consequences are (reprimand, suspension, dismissal, and so on) for the violation of your personnel policies. If you don’t enforce your own policies, you leave yourself open to all kinds of risks — including lawsuits — especially if you do not enforce consistently (e.g., treating one staff member different than another when they have both ignored one of your policies). And, as noted previously, consider staff coverage if you need to dismiss someone.
  8. Identify an employment attorney to provide you with legal counsel. Identify this person before you begin your hiring cycle. An attorney with experience in labor laws, contracts, and employment issues that you can contact for help at any time is an invaluable resource for any camp.


  • If you have a zero tolerance policy on the use of illegal drugs and alcohol and discover that more than one-third of your staff were using marijuana in a remote area of camp property one evening during their off time — what do you do? What does this mean for both your staff policies and your supervision ratios?
  • You’ve just hired your staff, but camp has not yet begun. A female counselor approaches you and tells you that another of the just-hired staff sexually assaulted her last year (not at camp), but she never called the authorities. She does not want to work with this person and wants you to do something. What do you do? What do you need to consider in this situation?
  • If your camp desires a culture of inclusion, what things do you need to think about in accommodating a biologically male counselor who is in the process of transgendering to female?


Business Issues — 11%

For the first time in the history of the Hotline, calls about the busi¬ness operations and administration of camp were so prominent that they rose to their own category with 11% of the calls. While most of these calls may not have involved a true “crisis,” the Hotline team recognizes that in the moment the camp director makes the call to us, they are stressed and looking for resources. The Hotline team does its best to connect every caller to immediate, relevant resources. Business/administration questions included a broad range of topics such as the use of e-signatures, insurance for international campers, and releases.


Camper Behavior Issues — 10%

Calls related to the inappropriate behavior of campers rose from 8% to 10% of the total calls since last year. This category excludes allegations of camper-to-camper abuse — which is covered in a section below. Typically, this category focuses on an individual camper’s behavior in general and not behaviors made toward another person.


  1. Games that might appear harmless can be dangerous and life threatening. Know them and exclude them from your camp’s program. Perhaps you’ve heard about some of them — the Cinnamon Challenge, Chubby Bunny, Mumblety Peg, and the Choking Game. Social media sites are filled with videos of kids engaging in thrill-seeking “games” that could cause serious harm and even death. It is critical that camp staff understand the high-risk games that are attracting alarming numbers of participants. (Staff can be tempted to participate as well!) Consider covering this topic during an in-service training soon after campers have arrived. The key to preventing your campers from participating in these risky activities at camp is in your staff supervision practices. Visit
  2. If a camper is showing inappropriate affection toward staff, handle it swiftly and sensitively to protect all involved. See Case Study Four for a specific example of a camper who — even after numerous discussions — behaved inappropriately and uncomfortably affectionate toward staff.
  3. Campers’ belongings CAN be searched if you suspect illegal or unsafe activities. Unless the camp is owned by a public entity (e.g., the city recreation department), there are no constitutional issues in having a policy to search belongings of campers. Invasion of privacy issues may be superseded by safety concerns. Ensure that parents are aware of your policies. See the resources that follow for an excellent overview of this issue.
  4. Ensure that parents and campers understand your camper behavior and related policies and their consequences. If, for example, your camp has a policy that campers cannot have or use cell phones while at camp, be sure campers and parents understand what specific consequence you will render if a cell phone is found.
  5. Provide a positive camp environment. Feeling safe is critical to a child’s learning and mental health. Promote positive behaviors such as respect, responsibility, and kindness. Prevent negative behaviors such as bullying and harassment. Provide easily understood rules of conduct and fair discipline practices. Teach campers to work together to stand up to a bully, encourage them to reach out to lonely or excluded peers, celebrate acts of kindness, and reinforce the availability of adult support.
  6. Educate staff on the indicators and symptoms of mental health problems. Information breaks down the stigma surrounding mental health and enables staff and campers to recognize when to seek help. Your mental health professional network can provide useful information on symptoms of problems like depression or suicide risk. These can include changes in eating or sleeping habits, withdrawal from others, decreased social and academic functioning, erratic or changed behavior, and increased physical complaints.
  7. Strict and well-enforced staff supervision policies are keys to decreasing camper behavior issues. Ensure that your procedures and staff training are designed not only to protect the safety of campers, but also to identify situations where campers could be tempted to behave inappropriately. Train staff in specific behaviors that represent good supervision.


  • What would you do if you catch a camper using a contraband cell-phone to secretly take intimate pictures of others? (See Case Study Six.)
  • What would you do to engage a camper who is distancing themselves from others and appears lonely and withdrawn?
  • What would you do if you suspect that a camper possesses illegal drugs?
  • What would you do if a camper is expressing threats of suicide? To what resources would you turn?


Allegations of Abuse at Home — 8%

Camp is a safe place — and in the minds of campers who are living in an abusive situation, camp is where they often feel comfortable for the first time telling someone about their abuse. This year, 8% of our calls were from camp directors wanting to talk about what a camper had revealed to someone on their staff about their abuse at home.


  1. You must report all allegations of abuse to the authorities. Period. While camps may feel that they need to investigate to determine if the allegation is true or not, or if the camper was “just kidding” or “just making it up to get attention,” investigation is not the role of the camp. Instead, the camp should rely on trained professionals to respond to the allegation. Those who work with children are mandated by law to report to authorities any time you suspect that a child is being neglected or abused. Make sure your entire staff is aware of the law and the appropriate processes at your camp to contact the authorities as swiftly as possible. Sometimes camps tell us that the camper revealed the abuse to a frontline counselor, but that he or she, as the camp director, talked with the camper and “don’t think it is true.” Regardless of whether you “think” it is true or not, you absolutely must contact the authorities. The horrors experienced by the victims of Pennsylvania State University’s football coach Jerry Sandusky, and the resulting revelation of cover-up by other university staff, have solidified this mandate.
  2. More children than you know may be arriving at your camp already the victim of abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in four girls and one in six boys will be the victim of abuse before they reach age eighteen. Consider your camp population related to these statistics. Many children arriving at your camp may already be the victim of abuse. See the following resources for help on recognizing the signs of abuse and steps to take if a camper reveals abuse to you.
  3. Document everything. To aid authorities in their investigation, make sure you have recorded everything in writing — what the child said, who they said it to, what time it was, etc. You should not interrogate or scare the child, simply have the staff member to whom the revelation was shared write everything down.
  4. Keep the number of your local child abuse reporting authority easily accessible. A number of the calls to the Hotline were simply to get the proper phone number. We are always happy to help in these situations as we understand the stress and pressure camps feel at these times. Camps can always call us, but you should also consider looking up the number now and posting it somewhere easily accessible to administrative staff. The numbers can be found at
  5. Many — but certainly not all — countries have a “child protection” agency similar to those in each of our country’s states. If an international camper reveals an abusive situation at home, (the Hotline got this type of call for the second year in a row), it can be unclear as to whom to call. In times like these, a camp need not try to figure out if the camper’s home country has a child protection agency. Instead, there is a U.S. government agency that keeps track of all of that information and can direct you to the right authorities: Childhelp (800-422-4453), In the case of an international camper, you will need to phone Childhelp, as the list of foreign country resources is not on the Web site.


  • What would you do if you witness a mother physically abusing her child at your family camp program? (See Case Study One.)
  • A female camper was passing her journal around her cabin and shared a specific passage with her counselor that disclosed a rape that occurred before camp. What do you do?
  • If a camper reveals to you that her step-father “squeezes her tight” and “leaves her locked in the car,” what would you do?
  • If a camper reveals that she was date-raped by an acquaintance at school, but never told anyone, what would you do?


  • See below or jump to all resources related to child abuse.

Allegations of Camper-to-Camper Abuse — 4%

After a few years of rising numbers, this year we saw a significant decrease in the number of Hotline calls involving allegations of camper-to-camper abuse. We suspect that this decrease is due to a number of factors including: increased staff supervision vigilance, increased understanding of the laws requiring the reporting of abuse, and increased education for children about their own behaviors and actions toward others. Most of the calls we fielded were from camp directors who either wanted clarification of mandated reporter laws or the proper phone number to call to report an allegation.


  1. The law is clear. You MUST contact authorities if there is an allegation of campers abusing one another. This summer, a camp director who disregarded this law was arrested. The public record verified that this camp director was arrested for failing to report an allegation a camper made to him regarding two other campers abusing the camper. The camp director did not call the authorities and instead sent the alleged perpetrators home. An anonymous tip to authorities in the state revealed the situation, and authorities moved swiftly to arrest the camp director. While this case did not involve an ACA-accredited camp, this situation brings very clear focus on our priority to protect the children in our care. Make the call to authorities if you suspect that a child is the victim of abuse.
  2. Make bullying prevention a priority from the first day of camp, and let all campers know that bullying behavior is unacceptable. All campers need to feel safe both emotionally and physically. Set bunk rules with explicit examples of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in regard to bullying. Post these rules in the cabin and have staff and campers review together and sign.
  3. Vigilant staff supervision is the key to keeping campers from harming each other. In most of the situations explained by callers, the allegation of camper-to-camper abuse came in those brief moments in time when staff were not directly engaged with campers — shower time, trips to the restroom, changing for the pool, etc. It is imperative that your staff be trained to be even more vigilant during these vulnerable times. If your camp does not have staff sleeping in the same room with campers, you must consider what you are doing to ensure there is no inappropriate behavior in the middle of the night.
  4. Ensure staff behavior matches core camp values. To prevent bullying and abuse, and to build respect and inclusiveness, staff must commit to matching actions with words. Staff orientation should include training on bullying behavior that addresses the types of bullying seen by counselors, what to do when they see it, and how to be vigilant with these issues during the season.


  • How do you protect your campers from harming one another in the middle of the night if your camp does not have staff sleeping in the same room as campers?
  • Lifeguard staff see two five-year-old male campers touching one another under their bathing suits in the pool. Is that abuse? What do you do?
  • If your camp uses a buddy-system whereby campers have a buddy to go places such as the restroom, what are you doing to make sure that those buddies are not harming each other when they are alone?


  • See below or jump to all resources related to child abuse.

Allegations of Camper Abuse by the Public — 3%

While rare, we fielded a number of calls from camp directors who suspected that one of their campers was a victim of abuse by a member of the public or a user group participant on property. In one case, there was suspicion that a camper had been abused by a member of the public while camp was visiting a public place. The camp found out about the allegation because the five-year-old camper went home and told his mother that he had been “touched” at a urinal in a public bathroom. While all the callers in this category understood and were complying with mandated reporting laws, they wanted to discuss policies and procedures for keeping their campers safe in public venues.


  1. If your camp occurs on public property, or you visit public places, you must establish practices that keep the public from interacting with your campers without staff supervision. Vigilant staff supervision is key.
  2. Educate your campers to be safe without making them scared. There are terrific resources (see the following resources section) about how to educate children to be safe in public places without making them terrified or shy of public adventures. Utilize the resources from the experts.


If you are taking your campers to a public place, what are your procedures for the use of public bathrooms? If you are not placing staff in those public restrooms, what are you doing to ensure that the public is not interacting inappropriately with your campers?
Beyond abuse, there are other ways that the public might interact negatively with your campers. Have you considered the emerging issue of public violence and the resources ACA has gathered to help camps? Visit


See below for all resources related to child abuse.

Parent Behavior Issues — 3%

Just 3% of our Hotline calls this year involved parent behavior — down significantly from previous years. Sadly, we continue to field calls where parents refuse to pick up their child who has been expelled from camp for misbehaving or has a medical issue that requires him or her to leave camp. As camps, you partner with parents, but sometimes it is the parents themselves that are the challenge.


  1. Ensure that all families have a copy of and understand your camp’s policies. This includes behavioral expectations and consequences for breaking the rules, as well as refund policies if a camper is sent home for behavioral issues. Be very clear with parents what your expectations are should you need to contact them to discuss their child’s behavior. Some camps have implemented a system as part of their registration process in which parents verify that they agree to come and get their child within a certain amount of time (or arrange for someone else to pick up their child) if the camp feels it is in the best interest of the camper and the rest of the camp for that child to leave camp.
  2. Always have at least one emergency contact who is not the parent of the camper. As mentioned previously, we have seen growth in the number of calls from camps regarding parents who are refusing to pick up their child early from camp when the camp has determined that they must expel the child. The reasons for expulsion range from threatening behavior to serious medical conditions. As shocking as it seems to the camp, there are parents who simply want the camp to handle everything until the scheduled end of camp. If the camp is unable to get a parent or other emergency contact to take custody of the child in cases of threatening behavior, sometimes the camp’s only recourse is to call the authorities to have them take custody. These extreme situations are rare but growing. Be sure that your camp families understand your expectations and the parameters that might force you to determine that a child must be sent home, including any medical situations. (For example, if you have a “no nits” policy about lice that deems that a child with lice will be sent home, be sure your families are aware of your policy.)
  3. Not every camp is suitable for every child, but there is a camp for every child. Be clear with families — prior to registration — about the culture and practices of your camp. Allow parents to make informed choices about whether their child is suited for your camp or a different camp. Consider ACA’s Find a Camp database ( as a tool for directing parents to a camp that might be better suited for their child’s needs.
  4. Communicate — and then communicate some more. An informed parent is a partner. An uninformed parent can become an adversary — with their children caught in the middle.


  • If parents refuse to pick up their child when you have expelled her from camp because of her harming other campers, what would you do?
  • If your camp has an outbreak of the MRSA virus and the health department is shutting down your camp, what are your procedures for communicating with parents and ensuring the swift evacuation of camp?
  • If parents have a special request regarding their child (and it is not something that is protected by law) and you cannot accommodate their request, how do you help the parents find the “right” camp for their child? Do you partner with other camps to assist in these situations?


Allegations of Staff Abusing Campers — <1%

This year we received only one Hotline call of an allegation of a staff member abusing a camper. One is still too many. This particular scenario involved a parent of a returning female camper who called the director to tell him that her daughter, along with some other girls that were at camp last year, had gotten together before camp to share their excitement about leaving for camp. During the conversation, the name of a male staff member from the previous year came up and some of the girls said that he had “inappropriate contact” with them last year. The male counselor was employed by the camp again this year and the director wanted to discuss what to do.


  1. We cannot say it enough — if an allegation is made that any child has been a victim of abuse, you must contact the authorities. Don’t hesitate. Make the call so those who are trained to handle these types of allegations can investigate.

Additional lessons to remember on this topic:

  1. One staff person should never be alone (out of the sight of others) with a camper. Period. If nursing / health care staff are concerned about the privacy of a camper when they are being medically examined, be sure you have established procedures that still avoid a situation where a staff person could abuse a child.
  2. Staff training and supervision policies must support the above. Is your staff-to-camper ratio high enough to ensure that one staff person cannot be alone with a camper, especially in unique times such as the middle of the night when a camper needs to use the restroom? Develop policies and procedures that support staff in avoiding one-on-one situations and practice strategies for avoiding these types of situations.
  3. Teach your staff to be ever vigilant and question what they see. It takes just one person to step up and question when they see something suspicious about the way an adult is interacting with a child. You may be the one who is able to free a child from ongoing abuse. Always have the best interest of the child in mind!
  4. Establish clear policies about appropriate physical interaction between staff and campers. Be very clear where you draw the line when it comes to physical interaction. Does your camp allow hugging, back-patting, lap-sitting, etc.? If so, be sure that your staff understands what is appropriate and what is not. Use role-playing in staff training to crystallize your policies.


  • If you witness a staff member being unusually physically affectionate (long hugs, back massages, frequent shoulder squeezes, etc.) with campers, what do you do?
  • If you walk in on another staff member who is with a camper in their cabin alone, what do you do?
  • If your restroom facilities are in another building, and a camper wakes you up in the middle of the night to take him to the restroom, what do you do?


  • See above or jump to all resources related to child abuse issues.

Miscellaneous Issues — 8%

The “miscellaneous” category of Hotline calls was not a category per se, but a mix of topics and discussions that ranged from questions about evacuation due to wildfires to questions about ACA’s Standards Program. All of the most frequently used resources from the Hotline can be found online: camp-crisis-hotline.

Case Studies

For an in-depth look at some of the issues faced by camps this year, the Hotline team has chosen eight situations to feature as case studies. We hope you will use these case studies as a training tool for your staff and as a resource to help you prepare your own crisis management plans.

Case Study One: Camper Physically Abused by Mother during Family Camp

During a family camp session, staff observed a mother punching one of her children. They immediately reported the behavior to the director. The director wanted to discuss options he might have, as this situation happened during their “family” time. This mother and her children came to camp as a part of a large extended family group, and the director was worried that reporting the situation to the authorities may cause some severe reactions from other family members. He wanted to explore his options regarding handling it at camp versus reporting the incident to authorities.


  • While acknowledging they could experience some real difficulties with other family members, the bottom line was that as a mandated reporter, and in light of the ultimate need to provide for the safety of the child, the incident had to be reported to the authorities.
  • The director was in contact with their legal counsel to be sure local and state regulations were met.
  • The director also wanted to talk briefly about ways to head off negative interactions with the extended family members, so he was calling together his team to help with that potential situation.
  • While policies are in place for most abuse situations, this highlights the need to be sure that the policies are reviewed with ALL camp audiences in mind. Family camp raises some unique situations where, for example, personal family styles of discipline may conflict with the camp’s policies. Having clear communication with all participants about expectations around family behaviors is of key importance, as is training your staff on these expectations.


  • See above or jump to all resources related to child abuse issues.

Case Study Two: Allegations of Camper-to-Camper Abuse — Special Needs Population

A director called to share a situation of alleged camper-to-camper abuse between two male campers (ages sixteen and fourteen) where the sixteen-year-old was the alleged aggressor. Both campers are autistic, and the alleged aggressor is the higher functioning camper. The camp specializes in serving individuals with special medical and/or behavioral concerns. At this camp, the campers sleep in a large room separate from the counselors. Counselors monitor campers until all campers are asleep by sitting in the room, leaving the sleeping room door open to a central area. Staff members sleep in a separate room by themselves but in the same building, which is easily accessible to campers. In the middle of the night, the alleged aggressor climbed in bed with the fourteen-year-old, pulled down his pants, and allegedly masturbated on the victim. Most of the campers slept through this. When this was shared with camp staff, the staff talked with the campers who indicated they were aware of the situation. At the time of the incident, the camp had surveillance cameras in various parts of their property. They were exploring the options for having cameras in the sleeping rooms.


  • Allegations of camper-to-camper abuse must be reported. Mandated reporter laws are clear. If you suspect a camper has been abused by another camper, you must call the authorities. The authorities may not choose to investigate if both parties are minors, but you must still report. The safety of children in your care must be your number one priority. As indicated earlier in this article, it is not the job of the camp to investigate the allegation; rather, camps must turn it over to the authorities who are trained in this area.
  • Active staff supervision is the key to keeping campers from harming each other. While the camp feels their current system and cabin arrangements are appropriate, they are going to reevaluate them to determine if any changes need to be made. Should at least one staff member sleep in the same room as campers? Why or why not? This is a discussion all camps should have on a regular basis.
  • If using or considering the use of surveillance cameras, understand the privacy laws. Laws vary by state. Seek legal counsel in order to understand appropriateness and options.


Case Study Three: Camper Refusing to Eat

A fourteen-year-old male camper attending an eight-week resident camp refused to eat many of the foods provided by the camp, and camp staff became concerned about his overall health and well-being. No special requests related to meals, food restrictions, or dietary accommodations were provided on the camp’s health history form that his parents completed. When contacted about the camper’s picky eating, the parents said that it was fine with them if the camper ate only bread, fruit, and milk all summer.


  • Research suggests that a failure to eat properly, stay hydrated, and avoid fatigue through rest can be a contributing factor to injury and illness in camp. Thus, a camp participant who refuses to eat properly could become a camp-wide health or safety concern. How would this issue be viewed at your camp?
  • How has food service at your camp evolved over the past few years to address the challenge of balancing providing nutritious meals (that also accommodate special food needs) with providing appealing choices? Does your camp access outside resources to help with food service or menu planning, such as support from a licensed dietician?
  • What are your camp’s policies and procedures related to meals and eating? How are these communicated to campers and their parents? Your camp has probably established criteria for what a participant needs to be able to do in order to attend camp (dressing oneself, taking care of one’s personal hygiene, and so on). Being willing and able to keep oneself properly nourished (with food and water) could be a reasonable addition to this list.
  • In this situation, the parents weren’t concerned about the child’s poor eating, even though camp personnel were very concerned. What’s the camp’s role in partnering with parents to solve this issue?
  • How well does your existing health/medical history form identify camper issues related to foods and eating behaviors, and how might you collect more detailed information from parents to better respond to situations like this case?


Case Study Four: Camper Showing Inappropriate Attention to Staff Member

A female, minor-aged camper showed ongoing, inappropriate affection toward an adult male staff member even after being counseled numerous times that the behavior was inappropriate. The adult staff member expressed considerable discomfort about the situation.


  • Supportive relationships between campers and staff are central to the camp experience. However, maintaining clear boundaries between campers and staff is critical, particularly when the campers are minors and the staff are adults. What boundaries has your camp outlined for campers and staff, and how are these boundaries established, communicated, monitored, and enforced?
  • In this case, the camper did not change her behavior even after the camp director told her that her expressions of affection toward the staff member were inappropriate. If this situation happened at your camp, what guidance would be provided by your camp’s code of conduct and your camper behavior management policies?
  • In cases such as this, it is important to protect the safety of both the camper and the staff member. Campers who show inappropriate attention to, or affection for, camp staff may place camp staff in awkward or even professionally dangerous situations if protocols are not in place.
  • The camper’s behavior in this case also presents a “red flag” because campers who show inappropriate affection toward adult staff at camp may also show inappropriate affection toward participants or adults in other settings/programs (afterschool, church, youth sports, and so on). If this situation happened in your camp, what would you tell the camper’s parents? What other actions might you take?
  • Another outcome of a situation such as this is that the camper might attempt to connect with the camp staff member after camp through a letter, phone call, e-mail, or social network such as Facebook. Many camps have established clear guidelines about camper-staff contact outside of camp. What are your camp’s guidelines? What reminders would you share with your camp staff if this situation happened in your camp?


Case Study Five: Administration of Camp Medication — Special Circumstances

During check-in, a mom told a camp that the diabetic medication her child would need in the event of a diabetic emergency could only legally be administered by an RN. No information about this special medication had been noted on the camper’s health form. This child was signed up to participate in a backpacking trip, away from the main camp, for more than a full day of the session. The camp employs an RN for a period of time each day, but the RN does not spend the entire day on site. And for the wilderness backpacking trip, the camp sends a certified wilderness first aider with the group to oversee any health care needs while on trip. Because the camp did not have a full-time RN and could not send an RN on the trip (a major component of this camper’s registered session), did the camp have to accept the camper? If they accepted the camper, were there other ways to be able to provide for emergency medication administration — that is, is an RN actually a legal requirement?


  • While laws governing the administration of medication vary by state, it appears outside the norm that a prescription would be marked as only being able to be administered by an RN. Is this indeed a legal requirement or is it the preference of the parent? What does the family do regarding school and school field trips where a registered nurse is not present?
  • The camp could discuss options with the parent, including talking with the camper’s physician and/or the camp’s consulting physician to consider options that would ensure the proper administration of medication in an emergency. Is there an alternate that may allow the child to go on the trip?
  • Because the parent did not forewarn the camp of this situation on the medical form, what is the camp’s obligation to try to accommodate the camper at the last minute?
  • Did the parent have a suggested remedy so that her child could participate in the registered program?


Case Study Six: The Rogue Photographer, a Stolen Camera, and a Mad Dad

A camp director called to discuss a situation where one male camper “borrowed” another camper’s camera without permission and took a picture of a third camper while he was showering. The matter was discovered while the campers were still at camp. The camp felt it dealt with the situation appropriately by calling the parents of the photographer, returning the camera (an actual old-fashioned camera with film that would need to be developed), and talking with the parents of all involved. No film was destroyed, as the owner of the camera had two cameras, and after the first was returned, no one was sure which camera was used to take the photo (or even what exactly the photo contained). The family of the camera’s owner wanted to get all of the pictures developed (as it contained other camp-appropriate pictures), and agreed to destroy the inappropriate photo and negative once the film was processed. The session ended and all the boys went home.

However, after camp, the father of the child who had his photo taken while in the shower decided he wanted the cameras destroyed. He also did not want any of the film processed. The parents of the camper with the two cameras did not want to destroy two perfectly good cameras and the other pictures that were not related to the violation of privacy. The director wanted to retain both families as potential return campers. He was unsure what the camp’s role should be in the situation now that everyone had left camp.


  • How did this happen in the first place? Where were the staff when the alleged perpetrator stole the camera and took a picture in the shower?
  • As the Hotline staff are not legal experts, the camp was advised to seek legal counsel to talk through the scenario. Questions to consider included: What is the camp’s role now in mediating this situation? Should the parents of the respective campers work it out among themselves? Is this a criminal matter that the parents need to take to the police?
  • The father of the camper who had his photo taken was concerned that there would always be a possibility that a copy of the photo could remain. Is there a way to resolve this concern?
  • What if the photo is deemed inappropriate or even illicit? Could this mean criminal charges for the photographer? Is the camera evidence that needs to be turned over to the proper authorities?
  • In some states, film developing companies are mandated by law to report to authorities any time they develop photos that appear to show the abuse or illicit photo taking of children. How will this play into this scenario?


Case Study Seven: Allegation of Staff Drug Use Prior to Hire

A director called to share that he had received an anonymous e-mail from the supposed neighbor of one of his seventeen-year-old staff members. This neighbor stated that the staff member “uses drugs, smokes, and has been in trouble.” The e-mail indicated the camp should not hire/employ this person. The staff member had a positive history with the day camp (as a camper and junior counselor). The director contacted the staff member to discuss the e-mail. The staff member admitted that, in the past (more than a year ago), she had used drugs but had since “cleaned up her act.” She did indicate that she had been harassed at school by a couple of individuals. The camp director wanted to discuss whether to hire this individual.


  • It is important not to ignore messages such as this — even when you are not sure who sent them. In this situation, the director e-mailed the individual who sent the initial e-mail back and shared the camp’s hiring policies and their staff training procedures. The individual sent a second e-mail indicating he/she would contact the local media if this staff member started work. There was some suspicion as to who was actually sending the e-mails, as the staff member did not feel any of her neighbors would do this.
  • Should camps conduct drug tests on staff? This camp did not drug test. Of course, some positions at camp (such as individuals who drive vehicles for which a CDL license is required) will require a drug test to gain proper credentials.
  • When appropriate, involve others in your organization. The director contacted the head of the organization, who fully supported him and his decision to employ the individual. The two of them were able to discuss the situation and determine next steps.
  • Be sure to have identified legal counsel to support your camp. In this situation, the director and/or their organization contacted legal counsel to get their advice regarding the drug testing of staff, the suspicious nature of the e-mail, and what steps they should take next.
  • Be ready with key messages in the event the media contacts you. While the director didn’t feel the sender of the e-mail would contact the media, he didn’t know for sure. He was preparing messages on the camp’s hiring and training policies and practices for both the media and parents.


Case Study Eight: Campers Accused of Inappropriate Touching

Several teenage female campers accused several teenage male campers of “annoying and overly handsy” touching, especially by one boy in particular, during an activity for coed team building. These accusations were shared with the girls’ counselor, and during the discussion, one particularly upset young woman further disclosed that the incident had triggered “unresolved prior sexual abuse” memories that she would not talk about. The counselor then shared all of this information with the director. When the boys were confronted with the “handsy” accusations during a conversation with their counselor, they said the girls were just being mean and actually bullied them. The director talked with the staff in charge of the team building and ropes course activities about this group’s experience, but the staff had thought the interactions were typical and within acceptability for the activity. They had already changed the program schedule so these two cabins would not participate together for the remainder of the session. The director called to talk over possible mandated reporting related to the disclosed possible prior abuse as well as the touching during the team building activities.


  • This camp had established good relationships with their local child protective services (protective services had run a session on abuse during staff training) and had strong reporting policies in place. The director had already decided to report the disclosed possible prior abuse. She was not certain the incident with the boys met the criteria, so she wanted to discuss that situation more thoughtfully.
  • The team building activity required that each participant had to be physically supported and passed through a “spider web” by all members of the team, so the idea that the boys could have purposefully touched the girls inappropriately seemed a stretch to the director, but she agreed that her job was to report and let the authorities investigate.
  • Coed programming in all their camp activities was a relatively new philosophy from the organization’s main office. In activities like the team building activities that required physical interaction among teenage coed groups, she wanted to implement some changes that would allow for single sex groups for next year.
  • She was also following up with legal counsel to be sure she had covered local and state regulations.

Special Note: While the Hotline team most often does not know what happened at the end of each of the scenarios we deal with, this particular director followed up to let us know the outcome. When reported to the authorities, protective services turned it over to the police who investigated both situations. The police came to the camp and interviewed the girls and the boys as well as the staff involved with the “handsy” incident. One boy was formally charged by the police and was released from camp. The prior abuse situation was still under investigation.


  • See above or jump to all resources related to child abuse issues.


The ACA Camp Crisis Hotline is available year-round, at any time of the day or night, to provide support to camp programs in times of crisis. If you have any questions about the resources and case studies in this article, please contact Hotline Team Leader Susan E. Yoder (, 800-428-2267). For additional resources and case studies from previous years, visit The Hotline phone number is 800-573-9019.

Contributed by the ACA Camp Crisis Hotline Team — M. Deborah Bialeschki, Kimberly Brosnan, Barry Garst, Rhonda Mickelson, and Susan E. Yoder.