Are You Mentally and Physically Prepared to Work at Camp?

Norman E. Friedman, MEd
May 2017

The care and safety of other people’s children is a sacred responsibility. All staff at camp are in loco parentis (in place of parents). So, if you are working as a camp staff member this summer and are on site for orientation and training, your mental and physical preparedness for the job is crucial. If you are aware of having any serious mental and/or physical health issues, please consider carefully any potential areas of weakness in your ability to perform the essential functions of this important job and whether those issues require any reasonable accommodations to do so. The following questions are designed to help you reflect on your own well-being so you can seek assistance from camp supervisors should you find you are not properly prepared. Know that it is a clear sign of maturity to realize you may need and ask for someone else’s help.

  1. Did I deny that I had any physical or mental health problems that would affect my ability to perform the essential functions of my job with or without a reasonable accommodation? If so, consider that you may have made a judgment error and that you need to disclose your concerns to the camp director as soon as possible.
  2. Will I be responsible enough to take my medication as prescribed by my physician on a daily basis throughout the summer with no interruption? Remember that nursing staff are required to store all camper and staff medications in the health center. They must have full knowledge of dosages and frequencies and should be permitted to remind you if you forget to appear for your medication. Should any camper discover any hidden medications, you will be terminated immediately.
  3. Will any of my mental health problems prevent me from performing any aspect of the stated job description with or without reasonable accommodation?
  4. If for any reason, on any day, I feel unable to perform my duties, will I feel comfortable enough to immediately notify my supervisor?
  5. Have I planned for my own emergency and provided camp with contact information for who to call in the event they need to obtain assistance for me?

Remember, also, that while campers may have mental and/or physical health issues with which you might identify, it is never appropriate to share personal information regarding your own issues with the campers. You are expected to share with clinical staff any observable behavioral issues you notice, but your role does not include discussing those issues with campers or attempting to solve their problems. That rule extends beyond the camp season as well; Internet communications are forbidden between staff and campers before, during, or after the camp season unless approved by parents and the camp director.

Inclusion of campers, staff, and volunteers of all mental and physical abilities is a tenet for many of today’s summer camps. They value all who support their collective mission of providing a safe and memorable summer for young people. If, after thoughtfully answering the questions posed in the preceding list, you have any questions or concerns about your ability to fulfill your job responsibilities, don’t hesitate to speak with your camp supervisor. Your mental and physical well-being is important to them too.

Norman E. Friedman, M Ed, has been caring for other people’s children for more than 60 years. Trained as an educator, administrator, counselor, and mental health professional, his career has focused on the care and treatment of children and youth with serious emotional disorders. He is employed at the AMSkier Insurance Agency as an abuse prevention training specialist and director of AMSkier Partners, Inc. Norman has visited more than 500 camps as a training specialist. He serves as dean of the Gene Ezersky Camp Safety College at Lackawanna University and chairman of the Touro University MS in Camp Administration and Leadership Program. He can be reached at