Future of Accreditation

Update - October 2015

In early September, ACA members were informed of a forthcoming change to the accreditation process. This change, rolled out over the next 3 years, would mean that eligible*, accredited camps would complete an Annual Accreditation Report in non-visit years and would shift over time to a five-year visit cycle. As ACA staff and volunteers continue to work on the implementation of this change, we would like to share the following information.

With the implementation of an Annual Accreditation Report (AAR), the American Camp Association is shifting from a focus only on the visit to a focus on continuous compliance with the standards. This shift will emphasize ongoing quality improvement throughout the entire accreditation cycle. In most years, camps will demonstrate their compliance with accreditation standards by submitting a narrative report (the AAR). At least every fifth year, they will demonstrate their full compliance through an on-site visit.

Local Offices Selected

To objectively advance the new accreditation cycle, a stratified random selection process was utilized. The regions selected for the 2016 Phase are listed below.

ACA, Great Rivers. ACA Indiana, ACA New England, ACA New Your New Jersey, ACA Northern California, ACA Southeastern, ACA Southwest, ACA St. Louis, ACA Virginias.

For Local Offices PARTICIPATING IN the 2016 Phase , What Does This Mean?

  • A percentage of the eligible camps currently scheduled for a visit in 2016 will have their accreditation visit moved to 2018 – based on a random selection. Over time this will allow approximately 20 percent of the camps in a given area to be visited each year vs. the current 33 percent.
  • All camps not scheduled for a visit in 2016 will be required to complete an Annual Accreditation report. (Further information about this process will be sent to all camps by November 1.)
  • ACA staff will work with key volunteers, and camps originally scheduled for a visit in 2016 will be notified of their visit year by mid-October.

For Local Offices NOT PARTICIPATING IN the 2016 Phase, What Does This Mean?

  • Camps currently scheduled for an accreditation visit in 2016 are still scheduled for their accreditation visit in 2016.
  • No camps in your area will be required to complete the Annual Accreditation Report although ALL currently accredited camps must complete the Annual Statement of Compliance.

*Eligible camps are those that:

  • Have been accredited more than one cycle (i.e., since before 2013).
  • Have not been granted an extension in the past two years.
  • Did not fail their 2015 accreditation visit.

Have not been identified by the Local Council of Leaders/Affiliate Board of Directors as being required to have a visit (as outlined in the Standards Administration Manual).

Update — September 2015

At the August ACA Board of Directors meeting, a recommendation put forth by the National Standards Commission to adapt the accreditation process was unanimously approved. The recommendation reads as follows:

In non-visit years, all currently accredited camps will complete/submit an Annual Accreditation Report, which will include the Annual Statement of Compliance. This report will be reviewed by trained standards volunteers. 

After a camp has successfully completed two accreditation visits, it will move to a five-year visit cycle. (The first accreditation cycle will be three years, and subsequent accreditation cycles will be five years.) All current, eligible accredited camps will move to a five-year cycle.

With the approval of this recommendation, ACA staff, in conjunction with key volunteers and accreditation experts, have begun the process of determining how we will effectively and efficiently implement these changes. Please note the following:

  • The implementation of this change will occur in certain local and affiliate offices in a staged process. 
  • Volunteers and staff are working to determine which parts of the country will implement the change in 2016. This information will be coming soon with the full implementation of this process to all parts of the country occurring by 2018.

The change was met with unanimous support at the board level for the following reasons:

  • After careful review of this proposal by volunteers, outside agents, and key staff, it has been determined that the health and safety of our program participants will not diminish and can only be enhanced with this change.
  • This process adaptation will provide ACA with enhanced communications with camps in non-visit years through the annual report process.
  • This process adaptation will help to modernize accreditation following recommendation made by the Task Force on Accreditation and the best practices of the Council on Accreditation.
  • New programs to ACA will continue to go through the same process that we currently have in place. It is not until after they have passed their normal accreditation visit cycle twice (after the three-year process) that the camp would advance to this new process.   

Finally, it should be noted that it is the belief of each of us, the board of directors and the National Standards Commission that this change will provide ACA with many positive outcomes as we advance our accreditation process. We look forward to working alongside key volunteers over the next few years to implement this new process in the most effective way possible and to keep our membership abreast of the process as it continues to unfold. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Future model/timeline

Late Fall 2014

We would like to provide you with an update on the Association's work on identifying a contemporary accreditation process. Last March, we shared that four work groups were convened and provided ACA and the National Standards Commission with several recommendations. The input was invaluable. All identified the need to look broadly and make sure all aspects of ACA's operations were considered (technology, volunteer recruitment, human resources, fees, and legal considerations). Selected recommendations have been implemented, while others require additional review. Steps taken to date include:

  • A report to be completed in non-visit years is being tested this year by approximately 60 – 80 camps (these camps have been identified by local leadership)
  • ACA continues to identify ways to recognize and recruit volunteers to serve in the role as accreditation visitor (additional presence on the website, promotion at the local level, etc.). Congratulations to the many areas who have hosted Associate Visitor Courses this fall and those who have them on the calendar for 2015!
  • Review and update of all training – for both camps and visitors at all levels
  • Identify ways to reach out to camps that have not felt they were a match for ACA to achieve growth and increased diversity.

NSC members recognize that changes they envision impact far more than the core program for which they have responsibility. While a change in the cycle of visits is still in exploration, the move cannot be solidified without understanding the full impact to the camp community and Association. To that end, work continues including an operational audit of the program as requested by the Board of Directors. The critical analysis of the operation included a gathering of thought leaders across the Association who met in Chicago, December 2 to participate in a generative discussion focused on our challenges and opportunities to ensure our accreditation enterprise is contemporary, relevant and thriving. Two NSC members participated including the Chair, Jude Bevan. Jim Murphy, MPM, CPSI, Director, Child and Youth Development Program Accreditation and Department of Defense Contracts from the Council on Accreditation provided an external perspective and shared trends in the accreditation industry. Additional steps will include a report to the Board in February and engagement of the NCOL in New Orleans. The operational audit will conclude in April with a set of recommendations presented to the Board of Directors.

The NSC has continued to identify ways to address the immediate visitor shortage experienced in some areas while maintaining the integrity of the accreditation system. Some steps include:

  • The opportunity for local leadership to grant a two year extension to camps that meet established criteria and agree to complete specific tasks including the submission of a "Non-Visit Year Accreditation Report"
  • Continued review and research of a proposed five-year visit cycle and the associated impacts to ACA's operations
  • Review what changes an accreditation cycle might have in states where ACA accreditation is recognized by state regulators.
  • Specific tasks related to visitor recruitment and training.

This process has been a great example of how "pulling the string one place moves it someplace else". While all of us wish things could move faster, we want to "get it right" and are taking the necessary steps to do the work. We will keep you updated as to next steps.

Looking Back — March 2014

Four work groups have been identified and are currently working to provide recommendations for the following areas:

  • Building our pool of accreditation volunteers — enhancement, retention, and recruitment.
  • Training, quality, and accountability of accreditation volunteers (specifically visitors).
  • Compliance and accountability during nonvisit years. (Determine and begin development of what is to be done to address accountability in nonvisit years.)
  • Increase the number and diversity of camps accredited. (What qualities should an accreditation model have that would attract diversity?)

From the Beginning

September 2012

A Visitor System Task Force (VSTF) was created and charged with these desired outcomes: 

  • Generate ideas for developing accreditation models that expand the camps/programs involved in ACA’s Standards Program, including systems that recognize legitimate levels of professionalism. Identify how these models would affect the visitor system.
  • Define the components of a visitor system that preserves rigor and complements today’s volunteer environment designed to accommodate an increasing number of camps and programs and adapt to new models for accreditation.

January 2013

The VSTF completed their work and made the following recommendation to the National Standards Commission (NSC). The NSC in turn made a commitment to test the recommendation. 

After a camp has successfully completed two accreditation visits, they can potentially move to a five-year visit cycle if the camp meets established criteria. All currently accredited camps would have the opportunity to move to a five-year visit cycle as long as the established criteria were met. A five-year visit cycle is common in the accreditation world.

Winter/Spring 2013

  • Input was invited and received from focus groups, LCOL, NCOL, key volunteers, and the field.

September 2013

The NSC reviewed the current criteria to be met in order for a camp to maintain accreditation and proposed additional criteria to be considered in the development of the future accreditation model.


  • Remain current in ACA camp fees (currently required).
  • Submit the Annual Statement of Compliance (currently required).
  • Receive approval from the Local Council of Leaders / Board of Directors (currently required).


  • Complete a yet-to-be-developed Annual Questionnaire/Report (PROPOSED & NEW)


  • The camp has a new seasonal director (same as in current system).
  • The camp has added a mode of operation or has a significant change in programs offered (same as in current system).
  • If the camp has a new owner/operator (same as in current system).
  • For any other reason deemed necessary by the LCOL/Board (same as in current system).
  • The camp does not provide an ACA accreditation visitor (at minimum an associate visitor) OR have a current staff member complete eight hours of professional development specific to the ACA Standards Program (does not have to offered by ACA). (PROPOSED & NEW)
  • A key administer of the camp does not complete professional development on one of the thirteen core areas of ACA Professional Development (does not have to be offered by ACA). (PROPOSED & NEW)

The NSC approved a slight rewording of the proposal that is being considered:

After a camp has successfully completed two initial accreditation visits, the camp will move to a five-year visit cycle. All camps that have been accredited for two consecutive three-year cycles at the implementation of this program will automatically move to a five-year visit cycle.

Once on a five-year visit cycle, the camp remains on a five-year cycle, although, as in our current model, the local leadership will continue to have the discretion to require an out-of-cycle visit based on a variety of factors. Established criteria must be met each year in order for the camp to maintain accreditation.

Fall 2013

  • Accreditation processes of other organizations were reviewed and served as a resource for the NSC.
  • Additional criteria developed at the September 2013 NSC meeting was shared with local leadership, standards chairs, key accreditation visitors, and ACA staff. Once again, feedback was invited.

January 2014

  • All comments received to date were compiled, shared, and reviewed with the NSC. This information will help guide next steps taken.

Winter 2014

  • The NCOL discussed and provided additional input at the 2014 ACA National Conference.
  • Four work groups have been identified.

What’s Next?

In addition to the identified steps below, we will be looking for opportunities to broaden the conversation to include related issues and opportunities. We anticipate the ACA National Board will provide a charge in that regard. We will update the timeline to include this piece once specifics are available.

End of March 2014

  • Work groups complete work and share their recommendations with the NSC.

April 2014

  • NSC spring meeting and next steps identified to be implemented over next eighteen months.
  • Share identified tasks with the appropriate groups (staff, work groups, volunteers, etc.).

Fall 2014

  • NSC fall meeting.
  • Visitor training and recruitment efforts in place.
  • Update to the field on the status of the future accreditation model.

Winter/Spring 2015

  • Future accreditation model is finalized.