How to check the safety of your child's summer camp

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

When it comes to choosing summer camps, parents are urged to look beyond the marketing photos.

“There are a lot of things you can do,” said Britt Darwin-Looney, vice president of youth development services for Praesidium.

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Praesidium is an Arlington-based company that helps other companies identify areas of risk and shore up policies and procedures to create a safe environment. The company specializes in helping businesses that cater to children and boasts a client roster of several schools, youth camps and YMCAs. Darwin-Looney is also a member of Texas' Youth Camp Advisory Committee.

“First, I would always start with a website review,” Darwin-Looney said.

She said checking a website goes beyond looking at what activities a camp offers. She said parents need to focus on a camp's policies and procedures for dealing with everything from water sports to preventing sexual abuse.

“What we've seen, the camps who have really good systems in place are really happy to put that on their websites,” Darwin-Looney said.

Screening camp employees

Ask how a camp screens employees. Darwin-Looney said don't stop at the answer, "We do background checks."

“Background checks are good, but only 4 to 5 percent of offenders actually have a criminal history,” Darwin-Looney said.

She said a lot of youth camps hire young people.

“Young people aren't necessarily going to have that criminal history, and even if they do those records are often sealed,” Darwin-Looney said.

Darwin-Looney recommends parents ask if the camp also checks employment histories and references.

Employee training

Ask how the camp trains its employees and how it supervises those supervising your kids. This also includes asking a camp how it prevents hanky-panky between young campers.

“A lot of times we call that the rule of three or more, it's an easy way to remember that,” Darwin-Looney said. “Generally, that would be two counselors and a youth or a counselor with two kids.”

She said parents should also make sure a camp has policies that allow campers and staffers to easily report problems as well as policies on how a camp deals with reported problems.

“One of the things as a parent I would ask for is the staff code of conduct or information that they have about abuse prevention policy and procedures,” Darwin-Looney said.

Click/tap here to see our interactive investigative report.

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