Questions all parents should ask about summer camp

Sometime soon, spring is supposed to arrive.

Many parents may start planning for the summer activities for the children, including summer camps.

The following information comes from our Radkids organization. This is something we may not think much about, assuming if the kids are in camp, they are automatically safe.

The term “camp” has no legal definition. That means that there are no legal standards associated with it. Any organization can legally call themselves a camp, so it’s a mistake to think that because someone is employed by a summer camp program that there is a governing body that ensures the safety of your children with that employee.

“It’s not that parents don’t care about safety,” said Stephen Daley, executive director of radKIDS. “It’s just that we mistakenly make the assumption that It’s a given that the camp will be a safe place for our children. But the reality is there are no federal regulations when it comes to camps.”

The American Camp Association’s (ACA) is a community of camp professionals who have joined together to share knowledge and experience and ensures the quality of camp programs.

Its function is to educate camp owners and directors in the administration of key aspects of camp operation, particularly those related to program quality and the health and safety of campers and staff. The ACA accreditation standards, establish guidelines for policies, procedures, and practices.

According to the ACA, only 25 percent of all camps in the United States are accredited — meaning they meet the 300 health and safety standards set by the association.

Six states don’t require camps to be licensed at all and 28 states don’t require criminal background checks of camp employees.

We recommend that parents do their homework and ask questions. Some questions to consider asking:

• Is the camp accredited? If it is, you know that it has met 300 ACA standards.

• How does the camp recruit, screen and train staff? Be listening to hear if they do background checks for all of their employees. If it is one of those camps that doesn’t do criminal background checks on its employees, then you probably don’t want your children there because it would be very easy for a child predator to gain access to children.

• How old are the camp counselors? The ACA recommends that 80 percent of the staff be 18 or older and that all staffers be at least 16 and a minimum of two years older than the campers they supervise. While employers can conduct juvenile background checks, the results and scope can be limited.

• The majority of juvenile criminal records are sealed. Criminal records normally become public record at the age of 18.

• Ask about medical staff and the extent to which they are trained. Get a sense of how far away the nearest hospital is and what the resources are to get a child there if necessary. Who goes to the hospital and who stays back?

• Ask about camper ratios. ACA guidelines for overnight camps call for a 1 to 6 ratio for ages 7 and 8, 1 to 8 for ages 9-14; and 1 to 10 for ages 15-18. Day camp guidelines call for 1 to 8 for children ages 6-8; 1 to 10 for children ages 9-14; and 1 to 12 for ages 15-18.

• Be sure to get a clear picture of how discipline is handled at the camp. You want to make sure that the way the camp handles discipline coincides with how you would handle discipline as the parent.

“Summer camp can be a lot of fun and create happy lifetime memories,” Daley said.

We hope you all enjoy your summer activities and as always we encourage you to review your safety and emergency plans with your children before any new adventure away from your guidance and hands-on support.


Rob Herbstreith is a community service trooper with the Michigan State Police Niles post. Questions or comments can be emailed to

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