Post-Camp Communication: When, What, and How Should We Connect with Parents?

May 2013

Each year, millions of children apply to attend summer camp. Parents seek out educational and fun camp opportunities that will help their children grow in a variety of ways. In an effort to provide a high-quality, safe experience, camps ask parents to complete an array of information, including demographics, diet and nutrition information, social functioning, medical concerns, medications in use, and many other items depending the camp focus and structure. Parents comply by getting forms completed, sending copies of records, providing immunizations, and responding to our questions and concerns prior to the camper’s arrival.

Just as we ask parents to provide information prior to the camp experience, how are we communicating with parents as the children return home from camp? Is feedback being provided? Should parents receive information regarding the experience? What, when, and how should information be disseminated? These questions stimulate good discussion and identify potential opportunities to expand camp practice.

To better understand current practice, a Web-based survey was sent to members of the Association of Camp Nurses (ACN), who were asked the following questions:

  1. Does your camp provide post-camp information to parents or guardians after the camp experience?
  2. Should a camp have a process or procedure for providing post-camp information to parents?
  3. If a camp has a procedure for post-camp communication regarding health and wellness, what information should be included?
  4. Should there be specific post-camp communication with parents regarding medications?
  5. When returning medications post-camp, what are some elements that should be included when communicating with parents?

The goal of this survey was to establish a baseline for understanding current practice. There were a total of forty-four responses to the survey over a two-week period. The responses represented ACN members from twenty-one states. All the respondents were from residential camps. It would have been helpful to hear from day camps, as their processes and procedures can be useful and insightful for all camp staff. The majority of respondents had worked at camp for five to ten years (31 percent) with another 28 percent having worked at camp for less than five years. Of the respondents, 80 percent served healthy youth populations.

The responses to some of the questions were enlightening. When asked if the camp provided post-camp information, 40 percent reported that no information was shared unless requested by parents, while another 9 percent reported no dissemination of post-camp information at all. I found this high percentage to be interesting from an evaluative standpoint. As healthcare providers, we are often required to complete a process by conducting initial assessments, intervening with patients, and then providing outcomes information to demonstrate changes or improvements in care. With this understanding, camps may not be providing outcomes information to parents or families as part of a quality care process.

When asked if there should be a process in place for post-camp information, 82 percent of respondents reported yes. As identified above, 49 percent of respondents are not providing information to families after camp; however, in this same survey, 82 percent reported the need to have a procedure for post-camp communication. When asked directly about post-camp communication regarding medications, 70 percent reported yes, there should be post-camp communication regarding medications.

Two questions in the survey asked for more specificity regarding what information should be shared after camp regarding health, wellness, and medications. For health and wellness, reporting treatments (80 percent) and time spent in the health center (79 percent) took top honors. Respondents felt as though these two elements were the most essential to share with families after camp. When returning medications to families, discussion regarding the names of the medications returned (67 percent) and counting of narcotics (64 percent) scored the highest. Sharing information regarding routine medications, PRN medications, and medication errors scored lower, but were identified as important.

For questions two through five above, respondents were allowed to submit anecdotal information. Two consistent ideas were shared in this information.

  1. Respondents reported sharing much of this information in “real time,” meaning that camp staff were connecting and communicating with families as the events occurred. Thus, respondents expressed that providing this same information again at the end of the camp experience was redundant and unnecessary.
  2. Respondents reported that providing post-camp information would likely increase an already heavy workload and create the need for more paperwork. In camps with higher staff-to-camper ratios, the ability to provide this feedback (especially in writing) did not seem feasible.

This information provides a great foundation for discussion regarding post-camp communication and when and why it should occur. Having a consistent plan for post-camp communication may be helpful to parents who are eager to learn about the child’s performance and experiences at camp.

Camp programs vary, yet all provide children with unique and wonderful experiences according to each camp’s structure and culture. Although no specific “rules” apply to post-camp communication, it would be helpful for camp program providers to explore how, when, and why they would communicate with families. The American Camp Association (ACA) standards encourage camps to consider times for “parent notification” (HW.10). The first part of this standard asks if the camp provides parents or guardians with written information about when they will be contacted. Many camps can likely list situations where they would share information with families: (a) a camper staying in the medical facility overnight; (b) if there were questions about medications; and maybe (c) if there are behavioral concerns about the child. Providing this information to parents when they leave the child at camp can be a helpful tool to alleviate apprehension about communication.

The intent of this discussion is to provide some helpful hints for camps to determine timing of post-camp communication, those elements they deem as “required” post-camp communications, and some simple ways to provide such communication. This discussion regarding post-camp communication is based on the premise that most camps are likely providing “real-time” communication with parents. The need for post-camp communication is, in part, impacted by the “real-time” discussions that occur with parents, and future communications may vary depending on this initial interaction.

We understand in life that “timing is everything.” I think this applies to communication with parents and guardians as well. If a camper gets in a scuffle and ends up with a black eye, when might we want to follow up with the parent? If a medication error occurred, when or is it necessary to discuss this after camp? What about concerns regarding a camper’s well-being? How might you handle the timing of post-camp communication? These are challenging questions, but important elements to consider as your camp works on a policy or procedure for post-camp communication. No right or wrong answers exist; rather, the answer is what is “best” for your camper population and what’s consistent with your healthcare policies and procedures.

A second consideration involves situations or events that your camp deems as “essential” post-camp communications. While a sports camp may feel strongly that reporting athletic improvements and sports injuries are essential post-camp discussions, a camp for special needs children may identify that lab results or PRN medication administration are essential conversations. Consider your camp in the event of a mass illness or event. What is being discussed or reported to parents/guardians after camp? Parents have provided volumes of information to get their child to camp and are eager to learn outcomes. Camp staff need to consider what those essential elements are to help the parent understand the camp experience and how the camp provided quality care and service for the child during their experience.

In many camps, directors and healthcare staff may feel overwhelmed just dealing with behavior challenges, providing nutritious meals, and giving out routine medications. Asking these individuals to consider more paperwork or time-intensive documentation will not likely be effective. Simple methods exist for providing post-camp information and communication to parents without creating significant workload changes. Some ideas to consider include:

  1. Documentation form: Most camps have some type of generic documentation form to track behavior concerns, various treatments, and interventions. That form can become a triplicate form with three sheets. When writing on the form, you have now created two additional copies without any extra work. The primary copy can stay with the camp records, the second copy can go to the parents, and the third may be sent to a physician, counselor, or other individuals as deemed necessary. The triplicate form is easy to use, inexpensive, and makes written feedback available to parents after camp.
  2. Ticker sheet: A simple ticker sheet allows camp leadership and health staff to just mark a box that provides feedback for parents. The ticker sheet can be as simple as the example in Figure 1 (see below). A camp can design this tool to be specific for their camp and the populations served. By having a simple ticker sheet, very little time is spent creating written information for parents, but does allow the family to know that you are eager to communicate their child’s experience. Some camps even use a tool such as this to share “positive” outcomes as well as potential alterations or events during camp.
  3. Verbal tags: Some camps prefer to provide post-camp information verbally. In order to connect with specific parents on what is typically a busy day, try using smiley face stickers or simple sticky notes to “tag” the camper’s documents, medications, or other items to capture the parents before leaving. When parents come to pick up their child, the tag is noted and families can report to a certain location to talk with camp leadership or healthcare staff.
  4. Timed out: A timed-out tool is helpful for those post-camp communications that need to happen at a later date — maybe a week or a month later depending on the situation. Maybe a follow up phone call after an argument between campers or a simple e-mail to check on a “stomachache” that happened the last day of camp. A simple timeline can be posted on the wall, and then sticky notes with camper name, event, and date for subsequent call/e-mail can be attached. (See Figure 2, below.) In place of a timeline, some camps have also used a basic calendar and written in the camper information needed for post-camp communication outside of the immediate departure day. Either works well to track post-camp communication throughout the summer months.

Figure 1. Ticker Sheet.

  • Camper Information for Parents
  • No events/injuries
  • Change in medications
  • Behavioral concerns
  • Offsite medical care
  • Injury
  • No changes since phone conversation

Post-camp communication policies and procedures help establish parameters for effectively communicating with parents. When parents leave camp, they are eager to know the child had a good experience, but they also want to feel informed regarding the oversight and care received. A quality camp experience is something every child should have, and camp professionals, who understand the value of this experience, know that our efforts in communication are needed now more than ever. With changing demographics, technology, and expectations, talking with parents continues to be one of the most effective tools for satisfaction.

Encourage your camp to discuss post-camp communication — the when, what, and how that should happen. Make sure the camp leadership team and healthcare staff are on the same page regarding post-camp communication. By letting parents know upon arrival when you will contact them, and then providing quality follow-up, camp staff will create a trusting and therapeutic relationship with your families. A happy camper family is a returning camper family. Let’s keep’em camping!

Tracey Gaslin, PhD, CRNI, CPNP, FNP-BC, is currently the medical director at the Center for Courageous Kids. She is the president and board chair for the Association of Camp Nurses and serves on the Healthy Camp Education and Monitoring Program for ACA.