It’s almost time to go back to camp. In order to provide campers and staff with safe and enjoyable camp experiences, camp leaders must understand how to recognize high-risk activities and how to implement abuse prevention best practices.
To begin evaluating your day camps and overnight camps – start with these eight key areas:
Abuse prevention best practices include always engaging in the “rule of three or more.” There should never be one adult alone with one youth. However, we recognize that sometimes one-on-one interactions are unavoidable. That’s why it’s important to train counselors on what to do if they find themselves in a one-on-one situation with a camper. Counselors should feel empowered to report one-on-one interactions.
Age of Counselors:
The age of counselors poses another risk. Just one year ago, your 18-year-old counselors were 17-year-old campers. Counselor training should help the staff establish boundaries when advancing from a camper to a counselor. Also, depending on the age of consent in your state, leadership must be aware of possible legal issues regarding relationships between counselors and campers.
Counselor-in-training programs can provide invaluable experiences for campers. However, it is paramount that these programs have structure. Counselors-in-training should never be put in charge of supervising youth and should never be in the bathrooms or changing areas at the same time as campers. Counselors-in-training can be used as the second set of eyes and ears to alert leadership of any issues.
Bathrooms and Showers:
Camp leaders often question whether counselors should be present in the locker or changing rooms in order to prevent youth-to-youth abuse. The best way to manage abuse risk in this situation is to have the counselors stand close enough to the changing area or shower to hear what is going on, but not be directly inside this area. In addition, counselors should shower at different times than campers.
Transitions and Free Times:
During transition and free times, counselors are often instructed to “watch everyone.” However, this instruction can result in “no one watching anyone.” When campers rotate between activities, staff should be assigned to certain areas or activities or campers to ensure that campers are going to the proper locations. Staff should monitor where campers are supposed to go and confirm they arrive on time with attendance checks at the beginnings of activities. Also, escorting kids in groups minimizes risk.
Without proper policies and guidelines, overnight stays become high-risk activities. Day camps that have overnight sessions or overnight camping trips away from the cabin can lead to potential abuse exposure for camps. Ensure overnight policies address where counselors sleep, how long counselors should remain awake, and the sleeping arrangements for campers. Be sure to include bathroom procedures as well.
Within cabins, counselors beds should be positioned to minimize potential abuse risks. Do not let campers or counselors sit or sleep in anyone else’s bed or sleeping bags. Additionally, ensure counselors continue to monitor cabins after campers should be asleep.
Transportation poses a potential risk for camps, especially when it includes campers of different age groups. When transporting campers, separate campers by age groups In addition, the strategic placement of counselors can help minimize abuse risks. Capacity permitting, counselors should sit alone and at least one counselor should sit in the back watching the entire group.
Identifying and addressing these different high-risk activities can help leadership foster a culture of safety and ensure that campers and counselors have a wonderful camp experience.