Parent’s guide to keeping your child safe at camp

Jennifer Ranji, Special to The News Journal - February 17, 2015

Parents know it’s never too early to start looking at options for their child’s summer camp.

Of course you want it to be fun for your child, but you also want to ensure they are safe. It’s important to ask some essential questions when leaving your children in the care of others for hours each day or for an extended period of time.

In an effort to help parents become educated consumers and champions for their children’s well-being, the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families suggests parents ask these questions when looking for a summer camp:

What is the ratio of staff to children? The Division of Public Health requires camps that they regulate to have a 1:6 staff-to-child ratio for children 5 and younger, a 1:9 ratio for ages 6-7, and a 1:10 ratio for ages 8-14. Not all summer camps are regulated by DPH, however, so it is important to ask about staff ratios if you are not certain of the camp‘s policy on the number of students per staff member.

What type of training is required of staff? Are they qualified to render basic first aid? Are they trained to recognize and report suspicions of child abuse? Do volunteers receive the same training as paid staff?

 What is the camp policy on parental access? Delaware licensed child care providers must provide parents immediate access to their children. Does the summer camp allow for parental drop-ins at any time?

Does the camp have a policy for screening visitors or non-staff? Can anyone enter the camp’s grounds and walk around freely or are they required to sign in? What about workers making deliveries, outside maintenance staff or even those who remove trash? Have staff been trained to report anything suspicious?

Does the camp have policies or guidelines governing acceptable contact between youth and staff? According to the American Camp Association, it’s not appropriate for one camp employee or volunteer to be in seclusion with one camper and out of eyesight of others. Policies and procedures should minimize opportunities for a camp employee or volunteer to be alone with a single camper and out of eyesight of others.

 Does the camp conduct background checks on staff and volunteers? Many of Delaware’s summer camp programs conduct background checks on their staff and volunteers, but most camps are not required to do so under Delaware law. Ask what type of background check is done. Do camp operators require a complete criminal background check and fingerprinting? Do they use a third-party vendor that may run a name-based check through public databases? Does the camp interview and run reference-checks on their employees and volunteers?

In addition to educating parents, it is our goal to educate and assist camp operators regarding important safety measures they can and should take to protect children in their care. As a result of recommendations by the Delaware Background Checks Task Force, which I chaired, planning is underway for a one-day training geared toward camp operators and private schools.

Presenters will discuss background checks: why they are important, how they are done, and differences in types of checks. Other topics may include effective safety policies and procedures, preventing incidents of child abuse and Delaware’s mandatory reporting law.

The event will be held in early spring and Salesianum High School in Wilmington has agreed to host it. More details will follow in the coming weeks.

Whether your child is going to an athletic camp, nature camp, Boy/Girl Scout camp, or a camp run by an early learning center or religious or nonprofit organization, asking the right questions will help you to ensure your children are well cared for in a structured and safe environment.

Jennifer Ranji, secretary of the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, wrote this for The News Journal’s 2015 Summer Camp Guide.