Health Department Offers Safety Tips for Choosing a Children's Summer Camp
Albany, April 4 -- Many factors go into choosing a summer camp for your children -- from the activities they can participate in, to the new skills they can learn, to the friends they will meet. The New York State Health Department urges parents to carefully consider another important factor that should not be overlooked: the health and safety of their children. To aid parents and guardians in this decision, the Department of Health has released a brochure of important safety questions. This brochure is available through most summer camps and local health departments and can be attained through the State Department of Health by calling 1-800-458-1158.
New York has one of the most comprehensive and actively enforced children's camp programs in the country. All 2,300 regulated summer camps in the state -- from the Adirondack Scout Reservation, a traditional wilderness camp; to Al-Umah, where children learn ideals of Islamic culture; to Camp High Hopes, where most of the campers have hemophilia and are HIV positive -- are required to be under permit and inspected twice a year by the Department of Health.
As a result, New York camps show markedly low levels of serious incidents. Of more than 640,000 children who attend the state's camps every summer, less than two-tenths of 1% are reported with any injury, from a cut to a fracture.
"We are proud of our record at New York's summer camps. We have a responsibility for the safety and well-being of our children, and our efforts to meet that responsibility set a standard for the entire nation," State Health Commissioner Barbara A. DeBuono, M.D., said. "But our diligence should not supplant parents' own concern."
"I would tell any parent who is thinking of sending their child to a camp: speak to other parents, speak to children who went there, and make sure you visit the camp," the Commissioner said. "Any reputable camp will offer parents the opportunity to walk around the grounds and see the camp for themselves. If you haven't done this already, make arrangements to do so. If you haven't seen the camp's permit to operate, ask to see it."
Before a children's camp can operate in New York, its personnel, activities and facilities must be reviewed and approved by the Department of Health. The following checklist includes several of the most important questions health officials ask in the course of conducting camp inspections. According to Dr. DeBuono, "parents, guardians, and anyone responsible for a child who is going away to summer camp should be asking the exact same questions."
Summer Camp Checklist
Camp StaffCamp directors, counselors, and counselors-in-training, all must meet strict requirements enforced by the Department of Health to ensure that they are qualified and experienced to supervise campers and meet campers' needs.
- Does the director have experience in camp supervision and administration?
- Have all counselors received proper training?
- Are all counselors-in-training former campers working under the supervision of senior staff?
- If this is a day camp, is the camp director 21 or older; counselors 16 or older; and any counselors-in-training at least 15-years-old? Is there at least one counselor for every 12 campers?
- If this is an overnight camp, is the camp director 25 or older; counselors 17 or older; and any counselors-in-training at least 16-years-old? Is there at least one counselor for every 8 campers under 8; and every 10 campers 8 or older?
- If the camp offers archery or riflery, is staff properly credentialed?
Medical HealthIn order to be prepared for illness and injury, all camps must have written medical plans as well as medical staff available to children at all camp operating hours.
- Does the camp have a health director? What are the health director's credentials?
- Have you seen the camp's medical plan? Does it include provisions for medical, nursing and first aid services?
- Does the camp have proper information to notify you in case of any illness or injury?
- Are physicians or nursing services available to children at all times?
- Did the camp ask you for your child's medical records? Have these records been properly filled out?
SwimmingBecause of careful supervision by qualified personnel, serious water-related injuries in New York camps have been virtually eliminated in recent years. Not all camps offer water activities, but those that do must do so safely.
- Are all water activities supervised by an experienced certified lifeguard or water safety instructor?
- Is there at least one qualified lifeguard on duty for every 25 children in the water?
- Is there at least one counselor for every 6 children in the water aged 5 and under; every 8 children aged 6 or 7; and every 10 children aged 8 or older?
- If the camp uses off-site pools or beaches, have staff taken proper safety precautions for their use?
- Are campers tested to determine their level of swimming ability before participating in aquatic activities?
- Are campers required to wear life preservers when boating or canoeing?
- Is the buddy system required during all water activities?
Out-of-Camp TripsMany camps offer day trips off the camp grounds. Such excursions require counselors with the experience and maturity to handle emergencies on their own.
- Is there at least one counselor for every 6 campers aged 5 and under; and every 8 campers aged 6 and older?
- What activities are involved in out-of-camp trips? Do counselors have skill and safety experience in these activities?
- Has the camp conducted similar trips in the past without incident?
- If vehicles are being used for out-of-camp trips, are all drivers at least 18-years-old?
- Are vehicles equipped with seat belts for all passengers?
Camp FacilitiesThe camp operator is required to develop a written plan to include maintenance of facilities, campsite hazards, emergency procedures and drills, safety procedures and equipment for program activities.
- Have you toured the camp's facilities? Did your tour of the camp include all the areas your child will encounter?
- Are barriers erected against such natural hazards as cliffs and swamps?
- Are foot trails located away from such dangerous areas and from heavily traveled roads and highways?
- Are there periodic fire drills for campers and staff?
- Does each floor of every building have at least two fire exits, and each sleeping room have a smoke detector?
- Does the camp guarantee good health and hygienic practices among its kitchen staff?
- Is all camp food prepared from inspected sources and stored in proper heating or refrigeration facilities?
4/4/96-40 OPAContact: Claudia Hutton, Director, Public Affairs (518) 474-7354
New York State Department of Health Posted 4/23/96