Hotline Summary 2000

by Marge Scanlin, ACA Staff

We are not all the same. That is news to no one. But there are common expectations in a civil society . . . expectations of considerate, polite treatment. Expectations that staff put the needs of children first. Expectations that staff and directors behave in ways consistent with their position and training. Expectations that parents/camp staffs are considered partners in providing positive growth experiences for children.

This summer, as in other summers, those expectations were not fully met.

Each summer ACA provides a Crisis Hotline Service to camps who are facing a situation on which they would like advice or an objective listening ear. Each year for the last fifteen years ACA has received anywhere from thrity to seventy-five such calls. In all probability, this is the tip of the iceberg. For every camp that calls ACA, other directors seek help in other ways. Directors may call colleagues, or their insurance company, or an ACA section member, or a psychologist or social worker. There is no mandate that camps report incidents to ACA, though such a report is helpful as we plan educational events and look at trends in the industry.

Consistent Patterns

This year as in every other year we have operated the hotline, 30 to 45 percent of the calls dealt with allegations of abuse. Some of those allegations were situations of child-to-child abuse (about one-third of the abuse-related calls). Some were of abuse that occurred in the child’s home. Others were allegations of staff to child abuse.

Each year we hear the sad news of deaths in camp. Deaths occur in every area of society and there is no way to totally insulate camp from such circumstances. ACA has become aware of fourteen deaths in 2000. Eight of these were staff members, four from drowning and four from vehicular accidents. Six camper deaths included three drownings, two health related deaths from previously existing conditions, and one from head trauma.

This is the first year in several years that drowning has been the cause of more deaths than vehicular accidents. Since ACA does not get autopsy reports or final accident/injury statistics from camps, we do not know the details in these situations. Were there supervision problems? Medical conditions? Weather concerns? Unexpected water conditions?

Again this summer there were some health concerns. One camp was dealing with a confirmed case of Hepatitis A. Another had a viral outbreak that affected half of the campers and staff. Another camp was working with a camper who revealed, for the first time to anyone, that she was pregnant.

A serious injury occurred when a camper’s leg was severely cut by a boat propeller. Surgery was required.

ACA’s recommendations on preventing and dealing with the above-listed incidents remain constant.

  • Develop written procedures.
  • Hire qualified staff.
  • Train staff and supervise them regularly.
  • Have arrangements with local law enforcement, clergy, and mental health professionals.
  • Keep parents informed.
  • Have arrangements with legal counsel familiar with your site, program, and philosophy. Use their assistance sooner, rather than later.

Complaints from Parents

In addition to hotline calls, ACA also receives complaint calls from parents. These are handled according to procedures established to monitor ACA’s Code of Ethics. At the first stage of this process, procedures are called "Complaint Resolution" procedures and are handled at the section level.

The purpose of these efforts at the section level is to help the parties resolve their differences when the matter can be processed within ACA, or failing resolution, to determine if a violation of the ACA Code of Ethics or Standards has occurred. Complaints are only considered valid when they are in writing and signed by a responsible party.

As public awareness about ACA has increased, so have complaint calls and letters from the public, mostly from parents. The largest percentage of these complaints can be resolved positively when camp staff members and parents partner together for the best interests of the camper.

It goes without saying that the camp can ONLY control the response of its own staff member to such situations. Camps who rate high in public perception have staff members (not necessarily the camp director) handling complaint calls from parents with patience, tact, and respect.

We recognize that all the tact and respect in the world will not keep some parents from complaining to ACA in spite of all the good efforts by camp staff. However, it is instructive to see the kinds of things parents care about.

Types of Parental Complaints

Calls from parents this summer fell into the following groupings:

  • Alleged discrimination in refusing admittance to a camper
  • Camps failing to follow stated dismissal procedures
  • Abusive behavior by staff toward campers (swearing at, hitting, belittling or failing to stop other campers from teasing or fighting with their children)
  • Having inadequate health staff and procedures in place
  • Failing to notify the parent when the child was hurt or ill
  • Serving inappropriate food to kids with clearly stated allergies
  • Campers not met at the airport by camp staff as promised
  • Camper held under water by other campers and staff present did not intervene
  • Camper aides required to work longer than advertised and live under "second class" conditions
  • Staff not following stated safety procedures requiring seatbelt use
  • Failure of camp to report (as mandated) allegations of sexual or physical abuse
  • Staff who tell inappropriate jokes or discuss sexual matters with children
  • Staff who are condescending in dealing with parents and campers

Summary

It is clear that now, more than ever, parents want to be part of their child’s camp experience. They look with skepticism on policies that do not permit them to communicate with their child. Camps have many valid reasons for helping children gain independence and work things out on their own without constant calls to and from home. Developing and gaining independence is an appropriate developmental task of childhood. Clear and repeated communication about your camp’s philosophy on this matter will help parents be informed.

However, when children are sick or injured, prompt communication from the camp to the parent is absolutely essential. The parent needs to believe and experience that the camp is placing primary importance on the health and welfare of their child. After all, isn’t that what we want for our own children?

 

Originally published in the 2000 Fall issue of The CampLine.
 

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