Supervision at Camp: More than the Numbers

Contributed by Rhonda Mickelson
May 2014

“Camper Abused at Camp”: This is the headline no camp owner/director wants to hear or read. The American Camp Association firmly believes in the value of a criminal background check (see, as well as the value of appropriate supervision and staff training. In fact, ACA has standards that address both of these areas, as well as the ACA mandatory standard that requires a criminal background check on all new staff.

The current ACA standard regarding supervision ratios, HR.8 (Camper Supervision Ratios and Staff Age), includes the number of staff that should be with campers of specific ages. Two additional considerations are raised in HR.9 (Supervision Ratio Exceptions):

Does the camp identify:
HR.9.1 Exceptions (if any) to the general ratios in HR.8 for segments of the day when greater or fewer staff are required for supervision?
HR.9.2 Activities, locations, or situations where a minimum of two staff members are required to be present?

Is this standard something you have really thought about? Are these components included in your policies? Have you considered these ratios and practices as you plan your program? This piece will focus on a variety of scenarios to consider as you prepare for the upcoming season and evaluate your supervision ratios and practices.

Situation 1 — General Supervision

Is it ever okay for a staff member to be alone with a camper? What about a camper being in a 1:1 situation with another camper? These situational questions are asked more often as awareness increases about abuse and bullying. The questions raise some specific loca¬tions and situations that a camp should review.

  • Is your programming designed so that there are always two staff present and, if two staff aren’t available (for whatever reason), does the staff know what to do?
  • Do you have “designated areas” where it is appropriate for staff to sit and talk/visit with campers in a 1:1 situation, such as an indoor “living room” or outdoor garden? These areas should be where others are readily present for casual observation of any interactions.
  • Are staff trained that if a situation occurs in which they find themselves in a 1:1 situation with a camper where others can’t observe their interaction, they should immediately move to another location?
  • Is there always a staff member present and actively supervising in the sleeping cabins to prevent campers from being in a 1:1 situation? This is especially important during free time between program and meals and prior to bedtime, as studies show this is when accidents and incidents often occur.

Situation 2 — Bathroom/Bathhouse Facilities and Practices

  • Do you require campers to always go to the bathroom facility with at least one other camper?
  • Where do you ask/require staff to be positioned when campers are using these facilities? Standing by the door so they can hear what’s going on? Being inside the bathhouse with at least two campers present? With at least one other staff member?
  • If it is a public bathroom/bathhouse, what is your policy, and are staff familiar with it?
  • Are staff allowed in the shower house while campers are showering? If so, what number of campers must be present? Does at least one other staff member need to be present?

Situation 3 — Health Care Center and Treatment Policies

  • Do you ask the counselor to be in the treatment room while the health care provider is treating the camper?
  • Do you ask the health care provider to “leave the door open” during treatments?
  • Instead of having a solid door, have you considered having a curtain so the counselor waiting in the main room can hear the conversation?
  • Do you allow just one camper to spend the night in the health care center with the only other adult in the center being the camp health care provider? What other options might you consider?
  • What are your policies regarding transport of campers to the physician? Do you require, at minimum, the “rule of three,” which might include two staff and one camper or one staff and two campers?

Each camp is unique in their programming and facilities and, accordingly, requires intentional assessment and appropriate training and plans to meet its needs. ACA can provide information, education, and questions each camp should ask when evaluating camper safety.

Focusing on the health and safety of campers is of the utmost importance. Now is the time to give some attention to 1:1 staff/camper situations as you finalize your policies and practices. It’s not too late to make sure you guard your campers and staff from vulnerable situations.

Contributed by Rhonda Mickelson on behalf of the National Standards Commission

Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps, Altadena, California