It’s Not All Fun & Games!

March 22, 2012

Risk Management for Summer Day Camps

Jen Rose
Assistant Director, Sports and Youth & Family Programs
Southeast Missouri State University

Risk management is a hot topic in the world of campus recreation. Whether we are running sport programs, managing facilities, hosting special events or operating an aquatics center we deal with high-risk situations on a daily basis. It is our responsibility in this profession to be proactive in our risk management procedures and for most departments this is a regular topic of discussion. In the mix of everything we do in campus recreation there is one program area that poses some very serious risks, but is often not even thought about when discussing campus recreation risk management. Youth summer day camps is that often overlooked and systematically run program that holds some serious risks for programs. These camps are just a small part of what we do and are often put on the calendar to make revenue or get the community in the door, but are we protecting ourselves and the participants as much as we can or should?

The potential risks involved in running a summer day camp read like a horror story to many recreation professionals — supervision of minors, serious injuries, legal obligations regarding parental consent, missing children, sexual assaults, parental restraining orders, and mandated child abuse reporting, just to name a few. Often those involved with running a summer day camp have a background in programming but have worked mainly with college-age students; or the department may have someone with a background in childcare, but who doesn’t understand the risk management factors of running physically demanding programs. The risks involved with summer camps run the gamut, but most of these risks are easily managed and often avoidable, but the key is being aware and prepared before incidents occur.

A strong training program is a key factor in managing the risks involved in summer camps. A competent, well trained staff will prevent many potential incidents, and when incidents do occur they will be able to handle them appropriately. Training programs should run for 3-5 days in order to fit in all training components.

In addition to training your staff and requiring appropriate certifications, it is important to have a good training manual. This training manual should include anything and everything you need your staff to know for the summer. It should serve as an outline for the training program, but more importantly it is their guidebook for getting through the summer. A good training manual covers a variety of topics and will vary for each specific camp, but here are some topics you may want to consider including:

  • mission/vision of camps program
  • contact information for staff
  • job responsibilities
  • mandated reporter training (check your state requirements)
  • certification requirements e.g. child CPR, AED and First Aid
  • conduct and responsibilities
  • camper discipline policies
  • emergency action plans
  • positive programming guidelines
  • camp rules and procedures
  •  behavior plan
  • schedule of daily camp
  • organization of activities
  • lesson plan outlines and sample lesson plans
  • all forms (incident, accident, etc), and samples of correctly completed forms.
  • radio use guidelines

As you fill your manual with all these important and necessary tools, you may also consider adding songs lyrics and never-fail games so they are easily accessible for the staff throughout the summer. Another consideration for including in your training program schedule is a mock camp day. The more information you provide clearly and in writing the easier it is for all involved. The manual gives the counselors a reference if they are unsure how to handle a situation or know they learned something in training, but can’t recall the correct procedure. The focus of your training program is to prepare the staff to safely and competently handle any of the unexpected situations a summer camp program can throw at them.

On the subject of manuals, there is another important manual you should have for your summer camp program….the Parent Manual. The Parent Manual should be provided to all parents who register their child in your program. Items you may wish to consider:

  •  mission or focus of camp
  • staff backgrounds
  • schedule of sessions
  • dress policies
  • swimming guidelines
  • what and what not to bring
  • lunch needs
  • pick up and drop off policies
  • discipline policy
  • absence procedures
  • payment deadlines, tax information, parking information
  • emergency contact information
  • any other policies that may affect parents directly.

It is also recommended to include a form for the parents to sign that they acknowledge and understand the camps rules and guidelines and will adhere to said policies. You can also include a photo release sign-off on the form if you do not have one in your registration packets.

Included in this article is just a very quick look at what to think about for a training program and manuals for both staff and parents. Within those manuals it is important that you have specific and clear policies and action plans for everything from natural disasters to missing campers, camper release policies to behavior management and everything in between. Summer day camps are fun and exciting, but the risks are high and it is our responsibility to create a safe environment for campers. Many camps are happy to share their manuals, policies and forms with other programs. Take the time to speak with other camp directors and become knowledgeable of problems and issues others have dealt with so you can put measures into place that will prevent or properly manage the unexpected.

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