Summer Camp Safety
What Questions Should I Ask Before Enrolling my Child in a Summer Camp Program?
Summer is here, which often means kids running around the park or the local schoolyard in brightly colored tee-shirts. Throughout South Carolina, school-age kids are enrolled in all kinds of summer camp programs, meeting new friends, learning new hobbies or participating in their favorite activities and enjoying the break from school.
As the largest child serving agency in South Carolina, the Department of Social Services (DSS) has a responsibility to help parents access safe, affordable, quality child care. Our child care staff work hard to ensure that children are provided a safe, nurturing and high-quality environment in which to learn and grow.
We are also parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Most of DSS’ 4,500 employees have families here in South Carolina, and our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews are enrolled in summer camps right alongside yours.
All of us at DSS want kids to be safe. And we want to give you, as parents and caregivers, options and choices that allow you to go to work knowing your child is safe and receiving quality care.
So, we thought about what questions we would ask before deciding which program is best for our own kids. These questions are designed to help parents make an informed decision about where to send your child during the summer:
Is the program licensed by the Department of Social Services?
Under state law, certain operations are exempt from licensing. If a summer camp is not required to be licensed, ask if they have chosen to participate in the state’s voluntary quality rating system, known as ABC Quality.
ABC Quality places limits on which license-exempt providers are eligible to enroll and can serve as a good proxy for full licensure for programs that only serve school-age children (ages five and older). In order to maintain enrollment in ABC Quality, license-exempt providers must comply with child care licensing standards for ratios, supervision, and health and safety.
If the summer camp is not licensed, or enrolled in the ABC Quality program, do they have an American Camp Association accreditation? The ACA evaluates camp operations, including health and safety factors.
If the organization simply says they are “accredited,” ask them to tell you who they receive the accreditation from and what factors are addressed/evaluated in the process.
Does the summer camp conduct background checks on all employees who have access to kids?
If the answer is yes, ask them to explain further. Who conducts the checks? Do they go through the state, or do they use a private company? Which crimes are exclusionary, meaning someone who has been convicted of that offense is not hired? Do they do fingerprint-based checks? Do they conduct criminal history checks in other states besides South Carolina?
Do camp staff have current CPR/first aid training? Is there a lifeguard present when the kids are swimming or participating in activities on the water?
Depending upon the type of program you choose, other questions about employee qualifications may be relevant, particularly in more traditional child care settings, where the staff have more direct involvement with kids over a longer period of time. For instance, are staff required to have a college degree? Are all the staff age 18 or older?
How many kids are attending the camp and what are their age ranges? How many staff are with the kids at all times?
Parents should consider choosing a summer camp program that follows the child care licensing standards for staff-children ratios. For children age five, the ratio should be at least one adult for every 20 children. If all the children attending the camp are between the ages of six and 12, there should be at least one adult for every 23 kids.
What are the procedures for signing kids in and out? How do they keep track of the kids throughout the day?
From a safety perspective, this is one of the most important parts of any child care program, including summer camps. All parents want to know that their child is going to be safe and supervised during the day, regardless of where they are spending their time.
What steps does the program take to ensure that only you (or someone specifically authorized by you) are allowed to pick up your child? How often do they conduct head counts?
If the program includes field trips, what are their procedures for conducting head counts and maintaining supervision over the children? How are children transported and supervised on field trips?
And finally, what specific policies or procedures does the program have for staff in case of an emergency?
Ask the program to show you a copy of these policies. Does the policy address what steps are taken when a child is unaccounted for, either onsite or during a field trip? Do they specify how long camp staff should attempt to locate the child before contacting law enforcement and parents?
Just like with more traditional, long-term child care facilities, parents whose children attend a summer camp program should feel welcome to drop in for a visit at any time without calling ahead. Visiting the program unannounced allows you to get a glimpse of what your children are doing and how the camp operates on a day-to-day basis.
To learn more about the health and safety of children, or search for a child care provider, please visit the Department of Social Services’ child care website, at scchildcare.org.