Summer camp safety: Are we leaving our kids vulnerable?

Abuse can occur anywhere. Parents should be aware of that and advocate for their children to the point of asking the questions of camp directors before sending their children to camp.

Jewish summer camp 300 (photo credit: Andrew Sherman/92Y Passport NYC.)
Jewish summer camp 300
(photo credit: Andrew Sherman/92Y Passport NYC.)
Summer camp is starting for several hundred thousand children in the next few weeks.
With a great deal of excitement and a measure of trepidation these children, as young in some cases as two years old, will take off to day camps, sleep away camps and travel camps.
Many of their counselors, supervisors and directors will be experienced at their roles, well trained and deeply caring for the children in their care. They may be school teachers during the academic year or full time camping professionals.
Others, most often counselors, junior counselors and waiters will be of questionable background, young, inexperienced and more concerned about having a good time in whatever way they anticipate. Some camps will have performed background checks on their employees but even in cases where camps are highly diligent there may be no background data available on some of their hires.
Many camps will have training programs to orient staff to guidelines and protocols that each camp should have. And most staff will happily abide by those rules. But there have been instances over the years, even in situations where camp directors have clear and unassailable rules, when terrible things have happened.
Every parent wants their child’s experience at camp to be a positive one.
Camp is designed to be a fun time and that is precisely what parents’ want for their kids. Unfortunately, many parents are reluctantly, even bashfully, not asking the necessary questions and not teaching their children what they should know to protect themselves.
Over the last few weeks, well after they paid the fees for their children to attend camp, close to thirty parents asked me if they made the correct choice of summer experience for their child.  I am not in the business of advising parents on camps and which might be the best for their particular child’s needs. That is not what these parents were asking me though.
They wanted to know if I knew of any cases of abuse that occurred at the camp they were sending their children to. Still, in all of the questions posed to me I demurred. For several reasons.
First and foremost, abuse can occur anywhere. Parents should be aware of that and advocate for their children to the point of asking the questions of camp directors before sending their children to camp. These questions are straightforward and unassailable. There are easy outlines to what a camp should provide in terms of safety for campers, for example ASAP’s guideline for parents (, which provide guidance on instructing children in safety and camp safety outline (, which provide steps that camp administrators should follow.
Armed with online guidance like these parents can and should ask their child’s camp directors the kinds of questions that they should be able to answer. The discussion guide for children demystifies what children should be armed with in order to protect themselves. A concerned parent must assertively approach these issues in an open and a clear manner. It is not too late for a parent to speak up about these issues.
When parents contacted me with the questions not only did I refer them to the guidance outlines but I also asked them what the goal was to send their child to camp.
Many joked that they just wanted their kids to not be around all day with nothing to do. Others said that they went to camp, had a great time and wanted the same for their children.
Still, others shrugged and said they had no option – all the kids in the neighborhood were going to camp. None of these responses are necessarily bad, nor selfish. They are honest feelings and reactions. None of the parents wanted anything bad to happen to their children. Motivation for sending a child to camp has little to do with the reality of protecting a child. And every parent who approached me cares about their child. I applauded all of them for that step they took to ask me. I also urged them to take the next step and ask those who were most capable to answer and responsible for their child.
We hope that every child has an enjoyable summer experience and can work toward ensuring that by teaching parents where to look and what to ask when they register their child for a summer program, and more importantly how to speak with their children.
The author is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the author of numerous articles and books, most recently
Abuse in the Jewish Community. He is also a 2018 PAPA Presidential Citation recipient.