Tips to Help Parents Learn About Summer Camp Safety

Make sure you're asking the right questions

Children on a nature hike
Children on a nature hike. Getty Images/Alistair Berg/DigitalVision

Parents typically ask a lot of questions and do their research before deciding to send a youngster to a summer camp, but they may forget to ask about summer camp safety measures.

Before sending in that deposit, parents should determine whether the camp has appropriate written health guidelines and medical protocols in place should the need arise.

Safety Measures

No matter the kind of camp, staffers should be trained in CPR and first aid techniques and know the camp's protocol in cases of emergency.

Even better, parents should receive a copy of those guidelines or have access to them through a website or on a bulletin board at the facility.

Parents sending children to camps that will include field trips, outdoor outings, and physical activities should ask if personnel know about health conditions, such as Lyme disease, West Nile virus, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Camp staff should also be able to spot signs of dehydration, overheating, sunburn, respiratory distress, asthma, or other conditions that can occur during rigorous activities.

Questions to Ask

Kids trying new activities or taking field trips may need closer watch. What is the counselor-to-child ratio? Parents should feel comfortable with the number of adults watching a certain group of kids. Also, ask who will be driving kids on field trips and how kids are restrained in vehicles. Make sure you're comfortable with the answer.

Also, find out about the safety training that staff has and if there's in-house medical protocol training so that personnel know what to do (and what not to do) in the event of a sudden illness or medical emergency. Ask whether a first-aid kit is brought to events and if a trained medical professional will be present.

In addition, learn if camp organizers have a crisis management plan in place and if they have designated certain medical facilities or hospitals to take campers in the event of an emergency. Ask how they plan to inform parents of any changes in plans or health concerns and which criteria organizers use to determine when parents need to be called to bring a child home.

Emergency Contact Information

Did the camp request multiple contact options for you to reach you during an emergency? Do staffers bring emergency contact numbers with them on field trips so that the information is easily obtainable?

Some parents forget to update their records when they change numbers or addresses, leaving providers unable to reach them during emergencies. Be sure to update your information.

Childcare facilities and camp organizers should be extra conscientious and ask parents to double check their information to ensure it is current and correct. On the other hand, be sure to know which numbers to call at camp, should you need to get into contact with your child immediately during a crisis.

Keep Staffers Aware

Have organizers been alerted about any medical conditions or special needs of campers? Even if a child has participated in a particular camp previously or has attended a daycare on an ongoing basis, new staff is often hired who may not be familiar with your child. So, parents need to make sure that they continue to communicate these special needs or health conditions. If possible, find out the particular staff member who will oversee your child and make an effort to have a one-on-one conversation with that person about your child's medical issues.

You'll also want to know how camps transport medicine for children and if staff understands how inhalers or auto-injectors work. If your child requires medication during the day, be sure it is clearly and properly labeled and provide written directions on its use. Don't assume that you can simply "tell" a staff member in passing and that the information will be clearly understood and remembered later.

Many camps require children to have a health evaluation to be admitted to camp. This evaluation should include any allergies, illnesses, or prior problems children have had. It should also list any physical limitations of the child. If the camp doesn't ask for such information, parents can provide an evaluation anyway. They may also provide a copy of the child's immunization record.

Hydration Practices

What is the camp's protocol for hydration? Camps often ask parents to pack a lunch and bring a drink for children, but when kids are outdoors, those drinks may be consumed quickly. Find out if the camp keeps additional beverages on hand for children or if water fountains are on site.

Also, ask how much shade is available and if children have ample rest times. Learn how lunch boxes are stored or transported to make sure your child's food isn't spoiled. Some camps refrigerate a child's lunch; others don't and ask parents to pack lunches with ice packs.

Common Health Issues

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, illnesses that commonly affect camp life and require intervention include upper respiratory tract infections, vomiting and diarrhea, asthma and allergies, conjunctivitis (pinkeye), poison ivy and poison oak, and sunburn and heat-related illnesses.

Do what you can to minimize your child's risk of developing such conditions. This includes learning which safety measures camps have in place to protect the children in their care. 

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