Case Studies from the 2015 Crisis Hotline Annual Review

November 2015

Each year, the Camp Crisis Hotline Team identifies a select number of case studies for a more in-depth look, and to serve as examples for other camps to use in staff training and the development of their own risk management plans. It is our hope that by understanding the real crisis situations of other camps, your camp can learn and anticipate for the future.

Case STUDY One:

Allegations of Abuse and Responses from the Authorities

When the ACA Hotline Team receives calls regarding allegations of abuse of any type, our response always includes the phrase – “Camp personnel are mandated reporters.” We received three calls this summer that we’d like to highlight. In these calls, the caller was well aware of the law and did make the call to the appropriate authorities. Each call had a different, and at times surprising, response from Child Protective Services.

Situation 1: 

There was an allegation of camper to camper inappropriate touching and bullying perpetrated by Camper A. After Camper B was found in the bathroom crying and indicating she felt “violated”, the director (who happened to be a social worker), called Child Protective Services (CPS). Camper A was isolated from other campers, and in talking to her, she indicated that she did not feel she had done anything wrong. 
 

In consulting with CPS, the camp was informed that CPS would not investigate this type of matter – and CPS directed the camp not to tell either set of parents/guardians of the fact CPS had been called. They cited a “confidentiality issue.” As this was against all the director had learned, she was very concerned and also shared that this county-level CPS had not been responsive in the past. The Hotline Team also found this response outside the norm as parents of the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator generally have a right to know that the camp followed the law and called CPS. In discussing potential next steps with the caller, together we considered the following: 1) contact legal counsel to share the experience with CPS and obtain advice, 2) with legal approval, contact both sets of parents, 3) establish a behavioral contract with Camper A, 4) tell Camper B the plan. And finally, to consider contacting their State’s CPS to express concern of county CPS, their inaction, and their insistence that parents should not know that CPS was contacted.

Situation 2: 

While a counselor was talking with a 9 year old camper who had been misbehaving, the camper alleged that his dad “beat him with a belt.” The director called the county in which the boy resided to report the alleged abuse (this camper is from an adjoining state). Soon after the report, the director received a call from the county CPS in which the camp is located. The child’s home county authorities had requested the camp’s local authorities to conduct an interview of the child — at camp. This was a “first” for the director who wanted to talk through the scenario. We discussed: 1) Selecting the best location for the interview (perhaps the camp office), 2) If allowed by CPS, having a camp staff member accompany the boy so he might feel safer with strangers, 3) Developing a plan to tell the camper what was about to happen and share with him that the top priority for the camp is his safety and security, 4) Contacting the camp’s board of directors so they know what is happening, 5) Documenting everything completely. 

The director’s main question however was “Should I tell the parents?” While ACA cannot provide legal advice in this matter, we did discuss that he could call the county CPS back and ask them about their process for notifying the parents — for example, who contacts the mother and or the father, when does it occur, etc. 

Situation 3: 

During evening discussion time, a female camper alleged that her dad hit her sister with an open hand. The counselor who heard this allegation shared it with the director and a volunteer board member, who happens to be a social worker. The counselor and the board member spoke with the girl again about this allegation and the girl was very clear it was with an open hand. They phoned CPS to report the allegation. CPS indicated this was not an issue they would investigate. Subsequently, the board member wanted to contact the mother and share what the camp learned. The director knew it would not be appropriate for the board member to contact the parents; but wondered if she should contact them and if so – what to tell them. The Hotline Team talked through a number of issues with the caller. 1) The type of relationship the camp has with the family (The director indicated they had a positive relationship with this mom). 2) The usual person who contacts camp families, either electronically or via phone (they indicated that camp staff usually communicate with families). 3) The camp director should get input from the organization’s Executive Director. 4) The potential of the director having an after camp discussion with the mom and sharing about this allegation in a matter of fact manner. 5) Taking the opportunity to review and potentially revise camp policies on who communicates with camper and camp families outside of camp. 

All three of these situations involved the director calling Child Protective Services and receiving a response they weren’t anticipating. Would you be prepared to address these situations? Now is the time to do your homework and review your camp’s policies, procedures and staff training

LESSONS LEARNED AND QUESTIONS – Case Study 1

  • Contact the Child Protective Services for your locale and ask:
    • When a call is made to CPS, at what point — if any — are parents informed? Who informs them?
    • If the report involves two children, when and how are the other parents informed?
    • If CPS says that it will not investigate (such as in situations 1 and 3), should the camp tell the parents that they made the report? If not, the children may well tell their parents about the alleged incident — and then what?
    • If an interview is conducted on camp property, can the camp have a staff member accompany the camper? Who contacts the parents in this situation and when? 
  • Discuss with staff what you will do if you make a report, CPS informs you that they will not investigate, but you feel the safety of the child is at stake and something needs to be done. Who could you talk with? 
  • Review your policies regarding reporting of alleged abuse and share with key camp leadership and staff as necessary. 

RESOURCES – Case Study 1

ACA has compiled a significant number of resources specific to allegations of abuse and mandated reporting.

Case Study Two: 

Underage Drinking and Alcohol on Property 

During a recent break between camp sessions, several staff of various ages (adults and minors) were drinking on property. The location of the party was an old farmhouse that is somewhat removed from the main part of camp, but is on property, and during the summer, is the private residence of the food service manager and her daughter (also on camp staff). As it is a private residence, those living there are allowed to have alcohol. According to the director, there were various levels of culpability by staff. The health supervisor purchased the alcohol and shared with minors. Some of the adult staff had been led to believe the party was “okayed” by the staff member who lived there, and those staff did not provide alcohol to minors. Finally, international staff (under the age of 21) didn’t realize the farmhouse was on property, had minimal to drink, and left shortly after the party started. It is against camp policy for staff to drink alcohol in the “main camp property” or to return to camp under the influence. The director talked with all involved and heard consistent stories from everyone. After sorting things out, the Camp Administrator determined the “penalties” for those involved, with the most serious being the releasing of the health care supervisor. Other staff received a written warning or verbal warning. All would have to re-apply to work at camp for 2016. 

LESSONS LEARNED AND QUESTIONS – Case Study 2

  • Camps need to have clearly spelled out policies regarding alcohol use. Is it allowed on property or not? If so, where and when? What if staff return to property under the influence? What are consequences? Lack of clarity was an issue in this situation. 
  • Enforce your policies! Having a policy that isn’t followed can be worse than having no policy at all.
  • Not only should the discussion of alcohol use be covered during the first days of staff training, but this is a topic that needs to be reinforced mid-season. 
  • What options for alcohol-free entertainment are available in your area for staff (all ages)? Do you have any options onsite? 
  • Consider how to address a situation such as when a staff member calls camp and shares they’ve had too much to drink, don’t want to drive, and don’t want to return to camp under the influence.
  • Research shows that alcohol use/abuse is prevalent amongst college students. It is important for camps consider what can be done at camp to minimize this issue during the summer. 

RESOURCES – Case Study 2

Case Study Three: 

International Day Camper, a Syringe, and International Health Insurance

A camp director called to ask if there was anything special the camp needed to know about dealing with a child’s international medical insurance.  An international camper and his mother were staying with relatives and enrolled for a week of camp. The camper is bilingual and speaks English well. The camp took the campers to the local urban public park. While there the camper picked up a syringe that he found on the ground. The staff saw the incident and immediately dealt with the situation. There was no sign of broken skin or a needle stick of any kind — they only saw the camper touch the barrel and plunger parts of the syringe. The camp documented the incident, informed the mom, and she came and picked up her child. The child told his mother that he touched the needle of the syringe, so she took him to the local Urgent Care/ER to be assessed. The camp carries camper accident insurance. The director was worried that the mother’s international medical insurance would be an issue and wanted to know how to navigate the situation. 

LESSONS LEARNED AND QUESTIONS – Case Study 3

  • The Urgent Care facility can sort out the insurance issues as they are the primary medical providers. Provide the mother with the camp director’s contact information in case her insurance does not cover everything.
  • Has the director consulted the camp insurance carrier regarding this incident?
  • What steps are in place at the local park to insure camper safety for each visit? What types of “dangers” need to be screened for: drug paraphernalia or dangerous debris; animals such as snakes, spiders, alligators; invasive dangerous plants such as poison ivy, oak or sumac, nightshade, oleander; the public and potential child abuse opportunities? 
  • Does the camp have a standard operating procedure regarding camper exposure to potentially infectious materials?
  • Are there procedures in place to orient campers to “rules” while at the park or whenever campers are in public?
  • Is the camp taking sufficient measure to train all staff to follow camp policies and procedures for going off property?

RESOURCES – Case Study 3

Case Study Four

Parent Complaint about “Behavior” of a Staff Member

A camp director called to talk through a parent complaint about one of their staff. The staff person was an individual who identified as transgender male-to-female who was assigned to a group of 10 year old girls. The parent complaint was why the camp allowed a “male” counselor to work with the girls— and what the camp was going to do about it? They also wanted to know if the camp was aware that this particular counselor was, in their opinion, “too affectionate” with the girls because hugs were freely and often given and requested. In the parent’s opinion, this physical affection was given too often.

The counselor in question did not live in the cabin with the girls, nor did she shower or change with the girls – and she was never present when the girls were showering. This staffer was very open about her transition and still physically appeared rather “male” (i.e. sometimes her face would get stubbly). The director never imagined that her transition wouldn’t be something that she would keep private. The camp randomly called a third parent. This family was aware of the counselor in question and had no issues with their child’s experience at camp. 

During the course of the summer the director did address the overt affection and discussed boundaries with hugs with the campers. During the end of summer evaluations (prior to any parent complaints) — the camp decided that she wasn’t a good fit (the hugging issue, which was never satisfactorily resolved, and that she was “probably not that competent”) and wouldn’t be asked to return next summer. This employment decision was not shared with the parent complainant. Subsequently, the camp’s board of directors wants the director to contact all the parents of campers in this group to make sure they are not upset with the camp and/or to put something in writing to the parents about the situation. The director is uneasy with this request.

LESSONS LEARNED AND QUESTIONS – Case Study 4

  • Has the director sought the opinion of the camp’s legal counsel – to assure that camp is not exposing itself to any risk, especially if camp moves forward with a written statement?
  • Should the camp notify the parents and assess their satisfaction? 
  • If so, just this cabin or all campers that may have interacted with this counselor?
  • If so, by phone calls or via prepared statement and satisfaction survey?
  • If not, what if the unhappy parents get more vocal with other camp parents?
  • Does the camp allow parents to dictate business decisions on a regular basis? Why would this situation be different from any other employment decisions?
  • There are many excellent resources regarding the inclusion of individuals who identify as gender non-conforming in the camp environment. The camp should consider additional training, including appropriate conversations to have with staff who reveal something personal. For example, in this case, the camp assumed that the counselor would keep her transition private — the counselor did not. A shared understanding would have been helpful in this case. (See sidebar on Page 13.)
  • All camps should set and enforce their policies about appropriate physical interaction between staff and kids. If this counselor was stepping over the line, it should have been handled swiftly — and if not adjusted, immediate consequences applied.

Case Study FIVE: 

Severe Storm Warning Issued While Preparing Day Campers for Busing Home

While preparing day campers for bus transportation home, the director received a severe storm warning with potential for tornadoes for the next 30 minutes. The director called immediately to get advice on sheltering the children in place versus loading them on the buses and transporting them home. While the weather was stormy, the radar didn’t show particularly threatening storms at their location. 

LESSONS LEARNED AND QUESTIONS – Case Study 5

  • The local authorities (police, local weather forecasts) may have advanced radar tracking that differs from what the camp can access, so it is a good idea to check prior to a weather event to see how they may help.
  • Check with your transportation company to determine their policies on how they handle severe weather emergencies. What are drivers instructed to do? How do they communicate with you about weather-related decisions? 
Camp administrators need to know the options available if they plan to shelter staff and campers in place during a severe weather event. Staff who ride the transport buses also need to be familiar with procedures to use if severe weather arises while in route.
  • What policies does the camp have in place regarding weather? Who ultimately makes the decision whether or not to transport? How do parents get notified if severe weather interferes with plans and schedules?
  • Consider registering for updates and warnings through weather.gov/xxx (local) or a text messaging service, having a NOAA weather radio, or downloading smart phone weather apps.
  • Update your severe weather plan with current resources, shelter locations, egress/meeting places, and communication plans.

RESOURCES – Case Study 5

www.Weather.gov

Find your local weather details and bookmark (www.weather.gov/xxx) for up to the minute information as well as who to call

Packing Your Weather Backpack: 5 Things Every Camp Manager Should Do

Case Study SIX: 

Rental Group Requests For Additional Security Measures

A camp that rents to an organization that serves children from military families and uses past/active military personnel as volunteer staff was contacted by the organization two weeks before their session was scheduled to discuss additional security measures needed. The organization had been notified of new security threats against military families. The rental group wanted to bring armed staff, and to post 24 hour armed guards at the camp entrance. The rental group had already contacted local law enforcement who they intended to utilize as part of the armed presence. Since many of the volunteers were associated with the military, they would also potentially be bringing weapons (concealed and open-carry) with them on camp property. The camp director had several concerns including: their own philosophical conflict (they do not allow guns on property), ACA- accreditation standards and if this request would violate any standards; and perhaps most importantly, the impact on the perception by staff, campers, parents, and the local community of their camp as a safe place. The camp was committed to working with this first time rental group, and had no references in their current rental group contract that either addressed or specifically conflicted with this new request by the organization. 

LESSONS LEARNED AND QUESTIONS– Case Study 6

  • First determine if your philosophical stance is critical to maintain with a rental group that needs conflicting accommodations. If it is, then understand the implications for breaking the rental group contract and the resulting financial and personal impacts. Consider adding to your rental group contracts anything that would be a “deal-breaker.”
  • If you accept these requests (which the camp in question did), then consider:
  • What do staff/visitors/delivery people need to know when they exit/enter the property? The camp may need to consider developing some key messages and guidelines to minimize the impact of the armed presence on property.
  • How will the weapons be dealt with to meet ACA standards? Where will guns and ammunition be stored and when? How will they be carried during the day to meet the ACA Standards? The camp’s risk management plan needs to address these kinds of considerations. A camp should consider consultation with their legal counsel and insurance provider as the policies are established.
  • What will be the impact of this armed presence on the campers and staff? Since the children are all from military families, the presence of guns may not bother them and may help them feel safe. However, the camp will need to have talking points ready to share with staff, campers, and key stakeholders.

  • What will the 24 hour armed guards be looking for? Are they searching every vehicle that enters camp? How much of the camp perimeter will they guard? The camp needs to understand how searches will happen and implications if something illegal or harmful is found.

  • The camp needs to have a plan in place in case an actual threat arises. The crisis management plan should be reviewed for how the camp staff responds to a crisis such as an active shooter. This review need not be alarmist to staff but just part of good crisis planning. 

RESOURCES – Case Study 6

Camp Security

Emerging Issues on Public Violence

Contracting with User Groups

Contributed by Deb Bialeschki, Kim Brosnan, Rhonda Mickelson, and Susan E. Yoder