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Gut Check

Before Jenny Bigsby enrolled her two children in day camp last year, she pored over listings of possible activities and contemplated what camps would or would not fit into her family's budget.

“What I never realized I needed to be looking at was the camp’s procedures for emergencies and accidents,” says Bigsby, a Marcellus mother whose then-11-year-old son was injured by a fellow camper. “I was horrified when I found out that the incident occurred hours before I picked him up. I didn’t expect he would get injured at a local day camp or that it would take so long to inform me of the incident.”

You can ensure your child’s personal, medical and emotional safety is preserved at camp by implementing a few safeguards. 

1. Not forcing the issue. Just because your child is old enough to go to camp doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is emotionally ready. The YMCA suggests reviewing the following questions to determine if your child is ready for camp:

• Has he asked to go to camp? Most kids are ready for overnight camp if they eagerly ask to attend.

• Have previous overnight experiences away from home generated anxiety or fears? Did you have to pick him up before the activity was over?

• Is your child uncomfortable or nervous in large public restrooms at shopping malls or sports venues? If so, this can pose a problem at resident camps where group bathroom and shower facilities are the norm.

• Does he feel pressured to attend just because a sibling or friend is going to camp?

2. Comfort concerns. Children sense apprehension, fear or concern in their parents. Do your homework to boost your confidence in the camp’s ability to maintain your child’s safety. Your confidence will set a positive example for him.

3. Diagnosing camp illnesses.
“We consider whether the camp is accredited and has the proper facilities to handle medical emergencies,” says Kelly Montgomery of DeWitt, whose daughter is diabetic. Overnight camps should have a full-time registered nurse, an infirmary, a medical director and a facility close by in case something should happen. “To prevent some minor illnesses and accidents, we remind her about the importance of wearing sunscreen and bug spray, showering every day and eating well.”

4. Check up on camp. According to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, a camp should have written health policies and protocols. All children attending the camp should be required to have had a complete exam by a doctor in the past year and be current on all immunizations. This will help protect your child’s health and prevent the spread of disease.

If you child requires daily medication or injections, ask who will be administering or supervising the doses and how the medicine is stored and accessed. Camps should have trained employees capable of administering a child’s medicine. Occasionally, a non-medical camp counselor or administrative staffer will give medicine, and this can result in an unfortunate accident.

5. Disclose details.
Before camp starts, provide the leaders with a detailed health history of your child, including any significant illnesses, operations, injuries, allergies, and any current medical problems. Include proper treatment plans for conditions such as asthma, bee stings or insect bites. Make sure the camp staffers have your current contact information as well as the information for whom they should contact in the event of an emergency. 

6. Analyze activities. Ask questions about camp activities. If your child will be involved in any water sports, review camp policy on life jackets and supervision, as well as the CPR certification of chaperones. If your child has allergies to animals, you’ll need to know if he’s riding horses or if there are pets in residence at the camp.

7. The mess hall. Food allergies or religious beliefs are just a few reasons parents need to know what their children will be eating at camp. Whether your child will only enjoy a light snack or eat all his meals at camp, review the camp’s dietary guidelines and clearly communicate any specific dietary needs. 

8. Riding along.
The American Camping Association advises parents ask about the type of transportation used at the camp. It is important to understand whether vans, buses or personal vehicles will be used and how often those vehicles are inspected by qualified mechanics. Ask for verification that all vehicles used to transport your child while attending the camp are properly insured and have functioning safety restraints.

9. Empower them to preserve their safety.
Arm your child with information and education about bullying, name calling, sexual predators and abusive behavior. Discuss who your child should report hurtful behavior to and make sure he knows you will believe and support him if he tells you about abuse.

10. Safeguard possessions. Label all of your child’s belongings to keep them from being lost, misplaced or stolen at camp. Even toiletries such as toothbrushes, retainer cases and hair care accessories should have his name on them to prevent the spread of germs and illnesses.      

For additional information about summer camp, call (800) 428-CAMP to request a free copy of the American Camping Association’s Summer Camp Answer Book.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York