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Must-read safety guidelines to check for your child's summer camp

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

The official guide to a summer camp that's safe and savvy

For children, summer camp is synonymous with fun and friendship. A parent's relationship with summer camp is a little more complicated, though.

Sure, you know that your child is going to have an amazing time — but with your kid spending days or weeks away from your watchful gaze, the prospect of summer camp is bound to come with a few concerns about safety.

Thankfully, camp safety isn't a complete mystery. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), here are the things you should look for to put your mind at ease about your child's experience at camp this summer.

1. Licensing for food safety

Licensing is a little different than camp accreditation, because licensing typically just looks at food safety and sanitation. Make sure the camp you select has received a good food safety report from your state's camp licensing agency.

2. Accommodations for dietary needs

If you have a child with food allergies or intolerance, you know how important special dietary accommodations are for your child's health and safety. The camp director should be able to articulate exactly how they accommodate dietary needs at the camp, and the camp's practices for avoiding cross-contamination of foods.

3. Camper-to-counselor ratio

Make sure the camp has the proper ratio of counselors to campers. The right answer depends on the age of your child. For overnight camps, the recommended ratios are as follows:

  • 4-5 years: one counselor for five campers
  • 6-8 years: one counselor for six campers
  • 9-14 years: one counselor for eight campers
  • 15-17 years: one counselor for 10 campers

4. On-site nurse

Every high-quality camp should have an on-site nurse to assist with bumps, bruises and medical emergencies.

5. Designated storage for medication management

Can the camp director articulate how the camp stores and manages camper medications? A good camp will have a procedure for medication management — and the procedure should pay special attention to life-saving maintenance medications like insulin and EpiPens.

6. Age of staff

According to ACA standards, at least 80 percent of camp counselors and program staff should be 18 years or older, and all staff should be over 16 years of age and at least two years older than the kids they work with.

7. Written rules and discipline procedures

Any good camp should have written rules for camper behavior, as well as procedures for behavior management. Campers and parents should understand how problem behaviors are managed before showing up for camp.

8. CPR and first-aid training

At a bare minimum, program staff and camp counselors should be certified in both CPR and first aid. The ACA also recommends staff receive training in emergency procedures, child abuse prevention, safety regulations and behavior management.

9. Staff turnover

It's typical for camps to have about 40 to 60 percent of their staff return each year. If the number is any lower, that could indicate that something is wrong, so look for a staff turnover of no more than 60 percent.

10. Fire safety

Ask the camp director how the camp manages fire safety. Do they have extinguishers in each cabin? Fire alarms? The camp should have a written policy about fire prevention, as well as a written safety plan.

11. Standards for water safety

All staff who serve as lifeguards should have completed a lifeguard certification class at a bare minimum. Bonus points if the camp has provided lifeguards with additional training for the situations that can arise in the rivers and lakes that are typically part of summer camp fun.

More about summer parenting

Summer is a great time to practice setting boundaries with kids
A single parent's guide to not losing it over the summer holidays
Why you need to be careful taking babies to MLB parks

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