By Pattie Fitzgerald, Prevention Education Advisor for Jewish Community Watch
Before you know it, summer camp season will be upon us once again. Our kids will be enrolled in day camps, sleep away camps, religious camps, and sports camps. These can and will be wonderful childhood experiences, as long as we can ensure that we’re doing all that we can to keep their experiences safe.
Straightforward conversations with our children and assertive dialog with the camp ahead of time are crucial. While most camps are fun and the staff safe and caring, we must take some prevention steps just to make sure.
If we don’t ensure that summer camp is a safe experience, no one else will. It is our job as parents!
TIP: Don’t be afraid to warn your children, according to their age, about “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” touches and tricky people who may give them an “uh-oh” feeling by acting, or touching them, inappropriately.
5 questions every parent should ask their child’s camp, regardless whether this is your child’s first year or not:
- Is your camp accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA)?
Although this is not a foolproof guarantee of anything, it does indicate that they’ve taken the necessary steps to meet health and safety standards, and also that the camp takes its responsibilities seriously.
- How do you screen and train your staff members?
It’s essential to find out:
- Who are the counselors (high school students, college students, hired hands)?
- What are the camp’s training and supervision policies?
- Who supervises the counselors and CIT’s (counselors in training)?
- Is there staff training regarding physical boundaries, usage of certain language, or precautions concerning discipline?
- Have all the employees been screened?
- Doing background checks, fingerprinting, and checking the sex offender registry does not offer any guarantees, but many things can slip through the cracks if the camp administrators refrain from doing their due diligence. The camp administrator should be able to answer this question quickly and clearly. Don’t settle for excuses like: “We know everyone here.” “We’ve never had to worry about it.”
- Who’s sleeping where? Who’s changing where?
No supervisor, CIT, or counselor should ever be changing in front of the kids. Simply, counselors should never be unclothed when kids are around! This is for the kids’ safety as well as the reputation of the camp and the counselors. Older children should have separate sleeping and changing quarters than the younger children.
- Is the staff trained to recognize signs and intervene if there are indicators that someone is blurring the appropriate boundaries and should not be around kids?
Child molesters can be charming. They are notorious for finding ways to be around children and hide their “true selves” around unsuspecting or naïve employers. Their typical grooming techniques involve favoring one child, and then seeking out more “alone time”. They may try to take that child out of group activities to do something elsewhere. Let your camp administrator and counselor know that your child is to stay with the group at all times, unless there is a serious medical emergency. A child should not be alone with one adult or counselor in any sort of private environment (like the changing rooms, cabins, woods, etc.).
- Can I meet my child’s counselor?
Make sure to meet your child’s counselor on the first day of camp, letting them know that you and your child have set up certain rules and have had conversations about appropriate boundaries and behaviors. By letting others know that you are an involved parent, you can significantly lower the risk of someone targeting your child.
Remember: Molesters seek out naïve parents, and children who are unable to speak up for themselves. An empowered, educated child is a safer child!
5 THINGS TO TELL YOUR CHILDREN AS THEY GO OFF TO CAMP:
- “You’re the boss of your own body! No one is allowed to touch you in any way that makes you feel yucky, confused, or uncomfortable. No one should try to play any kind of touching games with private parts, neither adults nor other campers.” This conversation is important for kids of all ages, whether they are 5 or 15 years old.
- “It’s OK to say, ‘Stop touching me!’ or, ‘Hands off my body!’ to anyone at camp, including other campers, a bigger kid, or even a grownup.” Give your child a couple of strong lines to help them be assertive if necessary.
- “It’s always good to tell. If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable or if you are having any kind of problem, tell your counselor right away. Don’t wait! Be honest with your counselor and let them know if you need them to help you.”
- “If your counselor doesn’t help or if he/she is part of what is making you feel uncomfortable, tell another safe grownup at camp – perhaps another counselor or the camp director.” Set up the ‘safe grownup list’ ahead of time with your child, making sure your child knows several different counselors or adults at camp that they can go to.
- “You are my number one priority and I will always stand by you and believe you if you are scared or sad about any experience! You can tell me anything and I’ll support you.” It is important to let our kids know ahead of time that we have their backs, no matter what!
SPECIAL NOTE: Jewish Community Watch is in the process of creating a Summer Camp Safety Video for children that gives them the tools to react to certain situations. We’d like your input and your child’s as well. Not only will your input help other children, but it can also open the door for a dialog with your own child about safety and safe touches.
What other questions or dialog would you like to see included in this video?
Please comment below with your suggestions!
Thank you on behalf of all our children.
Jewish Community Watch