The Inclusion Audit: Evaluating your camp's efforts to include diverse populations

by Maureen Kelly and Lisa Maurer

Camp is a special environment that can benefit children and adults of all backgrounds and abilities, including children with disabilities or special needs; gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth or families; at-risk youth; or minorities. By working to create an accepting and tolerant camp environment, campers from all walks of life can learn to better appreciate the differences and similarities they bring to camp. Ultimately, camp can be a place where a few people can make a big difference in showing kids how proactively working toward respect and diversity can help build a better world.

Conducting an inclusion audit is one step toward creating a camp environment that is inclusive and proactively accepting. Your efforts to include people of diverse backgrounds will help open the doors to a rich and rewarding camp experience for all campers and staff and their families.

What Is An Inclusion Audit?

An inclusion audit looks at and evaluates the messages that your camp sends, including the images and publicity used to invite children and families to be a part of your camp family. This inventory assists you in looking at your camp environment and examining how you are viewed by the campers, parents, and the public.

This audit will be most effective if you encourage people from different departments within your camp to survey different areas; a change in perspective will often yield a fresh view. For instance, have the people who create your camp’s media look at the registration forms and vice versa. The underlying question that needs to be asked during an inclusion audit is: "Is what I see congruent with the messages of acceptance and diversity that my camp wants to send?" You’ll want to look at the following areas.

Review Your Promotional Materials

Review all camp media including print and radio advertisements. Do the photos in your brochures show a diverse group of campers and families? According to U.S. Census reports, less than 30 percent of children live in a traditional, two-parent home. Your efforts to visually include a variety of family images will have a positive impact for many families and kids. Also, look at your camp video. Does it include campers with disabilities taking part in activities with other campers?

Your camp mission statement should be reviewed as well. Does it mention that you include all campers regardless of background and ability? Does it contain language that a certain group may find offensive? Do your promotional pieces include your mission statement?

In addition to looking at what you’re saying, look at where you are placing ads or focusing your marketing efforts. Are your ads reaching a diverse population? Do you need to change where you advertise?

Evaluate Your Forms

Do your forms ask only for the names of moms and dads? Remember, many campers live in one-parent homes, with grandparents, or in other nontraditional settings. Instead of asking for the names of parents, ask for the names of contact people or care givers, leaving it open for each family to fill in appropriate information without excluding some by limiting the question. You may want to proactively ask a question like "what is something special or unique about you or your family" to help assess the diversity your campers bring with them.

Examine the Camp Environment

What do you see when you look around your camp? Do the images on your walls reflect the diversity of your campers and the families they come from? Are the books and magazines in your library representative and inclusive to all dimensions of diversity? Does your camp have a diversity policy stating that campers and staff will respect one another without regard to background or ability?

Family Day may cause anxiety for some campers. Which family members do you invite to camp? Have you intentionally made the invitations inclusive to extended families and other nontraditional families? Are you prepared to help families and campers feel welcome?

Hire Positive Role Models

Are the people working at your camp aware of the positive impact of respect, appreciation, and acceptance for all kids and families? It is vital that camp staff be given an opportunity to evaluate their personal beliefs and values about disabilities, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic standing so they can be prepared to work effectively with the many diverse groups served by your camp. Prepare and train your staff and yourself to be sensitive to issues campers face. Tell staff up-front about the challenges they may be facing.

Where do you advertise for camp staff? Are you recruiting staff of diverse backgrounds as well? Campers will feel more comfortable if there are staff members who are like themselves.

A successful camp continually questions how to best carry out their mission and serve their constituency. Camps, like people, can only learn from examined experience. You must commit to looking at your past challenges and turning them into future successes. Serving underserved constituencies poses an exciting challenge with equally exciting benefits for the entire camp community.


Originally published in the 1999 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.