Summer Camp: A Parental Primer on Keeping Children Safe

Summer is in full swing and for children that means going to “summer camp.” Whether they are resident camps in the woods, sports day camps, academic enrichment sessions or something in between, summer camps allow children to make lifelong memories with old friends and new acquaintances. Unfortunately, though, children are children and summer camps can present opportunities for accidents and injuries. It should come as no surprise that children often or suffer injuries while they are away at these camps. Even more unfortunately, some camps increase the risk of injury or illness by engaging in unsafe practices.

Before sending their children away for the day, the week, the month or the whole summer, parents must understand the nature of summer camps in Indiana. The first thing parents need to know is that the state of Indiana does not inspect or have any kind of licensing procedure for the vast majority of summer camps. Unlike child care facilities, which are regulated, the vast majority of summer camps fall into the “90-day licensing exemption.”  That policy exempts facilities from inspection and licensure if they operate for fewer than 90 days per calendar year. That covers most camps in Indiana. While the Indiana State Department of Health conducts health and safety inspections for residential camps where children spend more than three days, those inspections are hardly in-depth. State Inspectors focus on things like fire extinguishers, proper sewage and sanitary food preparation. The policies and practices of the camp counselors, camp activities and the premises generally are not subjected to any significant review.

The bottom line is that there is simply no law in place requiring a meaningful, detailed inspection of these facilities. Indiana law currently requires summer camps to file injury and illness reports with the State Department of Health. The law is in place to create transparency and accountability. Despite its important goals of this requirement, only a small handful of camps comply with it. Over the past eleven years, across every camp in every corner of the state, only 145 of these injury reports have been filed. Even more surprising, investigative reporters with WTHR were unable to find even a single instance of the Indiana State Department of Health issuing a citation or otherwise attempting to enforce the reporting requirement. The Department’s explanation? Enforcement of this requirement is simply not a priority.

So what is a concerned parent to do? Fortunately there are organizations that accredit camps based on their compliance with safety rules and regulations. One such organization is the American Camp Association—a national organization located here in Indiana. To receive accreditation from the American Camp Association, camps must meet requirements related to facility security, food service, transportation, health care, staff qualifications, camper-counselor ratios, and even summer program quality. The Boy Scouts of America have a similar accreditation program for their camps.

In addition to checking for accreditation, parents should not hesitate to rigorously question the representatives of camps their children wish to attend. Parents should feel comfortable with the counselors’ ages and training, camp leadership’s background and experience, availability and provision of medical services and their ability to keep in touch with their children. Parents should also ensure policies are in place to prevent against sexual abuse—particularly in residential camps. Parents should enquire as to whether counselors submit to criminal background checks, staff are trained on sexual abuse identification and that at least two adult counselors are assigned to sleep in each cabin.

If your child is injured at a summer camp, you and your child could very well be entitled to damages. If your child has been victimized by camp staff negligence, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away. That attorney will help guide you through the process of obtaining compensation for your child’s injuries.

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