Is Your Child Safe At Camp? 5 Questions Every Parent Should Ask

As the spring approaches and the weather turns warm, thousands of kids across the country begin to dream about attending a summer camp.  They should.  Summer camp can be the best week of the child’s entire year.  Or, it can be disastrous.  Sometimes, it just takes parents knowing what to ask.

Last year, Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts revealed he had been sexually abused while attending a summer camp.  I don’t know the details of his story.  As he would attest, this is a real issue, and must be taken seriously.

Every year around this time, many parents start calling me asking somewhat similar questions regarding abuse in a camp setting.  Unfortunately, all they know to ask is if we do background checks on all our summer staff.  Little do they know that only around 3% of sexual predators have a criminal background history.

Over the years I have visited dozens of camps across the country.  Some of them have good intentions, but operate in a way that is not excellent.  That being said, if I were looking to send my child to a camp that I didn’t know much about, there are 5 questions that I believe are essential to ask:

1) How do you screen and select your staff? A credible camp should have written guidelines on how they do this.  This includes interviewing, reference checks, and background checks.  Find out how selective they are.  Do they just hire some friends of theirs, or do they take this aspect seriously?

2) How do you train your staff? I like to say that people know how serious you are about your mission by how serious you are about your training.  Get them to elaborate about their training week.  In Texas, camps are required by law to do a brief training and give a 25 question test to each summer staffer.  Ask them if they do this.  Do they go above and beyond in any way?

3) Do you have a monitoring system in place while my child is at camp? This is key.  I love my staff, but I watch them.  As well, I invite ALL of them to watch me.  Creating a culture at camp that no one is “above the law” is important.  What does this system look like for them?  Do they randomly check areas of camp, or have grids-system sign-offs?  This might be the most important thing I would want to know.

4) How can my child report it, in the event that someone is hurting him/her? Children need an anonymous way to report something with which they are uncomfortable.  Often, this could be another camper at camp picking on them.  The leadership of the camp needs to know about it, so they can remedy the situation quickly.  What is the camp’s system for this?

5) What is your policy about staff/camper contact after camp? After camp, there is great opportunity for further mentoring in the child’s life from their camp counselor.  However, there should be guidelines in place.  Many parents end up loving their child’s counselor, and then give them unrestricted access to their child after camp.  This is probably the most common mistake I see parents make.  Find out more about the camp’s policy on this.

Camp can be such a great experience for young kids.  I have watched God transform kids year after year while at camp.  As a father, I would not entertain the idea of sending my child to a camp unless I knew the answers to these questions above.  I have spoken many times on this subject.  If you would like to watch a short, 10 minute video of me explaining these, you can find them here.

Comments

  1. Lori February 19, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    Wow! I would not of thought to articulate my questions like this, but you hit my top concerns right on. More info on how the monitoring of campers & staff can (or should) be handled might be an interesting topic. I know I would like to know more. Thanks for this info.

    • Kevin East February 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

      Great. I’ll add that topic to the list of potentials for this spring. Glad the info was helpful.

  2. Travis Thomas February 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    Great article once again. Makes me think about what I did and did not research before sending her to camp last year. Thanks for the advice.

    • Kevin East February 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

      Thanks Travis. I think most people just don’t know what to ask, so they just look at outward appearance. (website, camp property, literature, etc.)

  3. Julie February 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    Great post-my nephew would LOVE to go to camp!

    • Kevin East February 20, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

      Well it looks like he is officially in the drawing. Let’s see what happens…

  4. Sherry Hawthorne February 20, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    You make some excellent points for parents to consider. I was alarmed when my foster son witnessed an inappropriate sexual behavior by an older boy at camp. The parents were not notified of the incident. I hope you will address the question of how camps separate children by age groups, and also the need for disclosure of incidents to parents.

    • Kevin East February 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

      Will do, Sherry. I have talked to parents about many tricky topics over the years. What I have learned from all those conversations is to err on giving too much information.

  5. Melanie February 20, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Great info! Thanks for posting.

  6. Terry February 20, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    Excellent info and thanks for posting.

  7. Susanna February 20, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Than you for posting this. It’s the perfect roadmap for picking a safe camp for our children.

  8. Sandy February 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    We have been sending our son to a camp for 2 years and he has been happy. Recently there was an incident where a counselor was charged and convicted of sexual abuse to the kids in his cabin.
    Is this an isolated incidence or a red flag not to return to this camp. They were quick to respond and address it to families.
    But the concern is there and we are not sure to send our child back to this camp. There was talk that this older counselor has been caught now for the first time, but this might not have been his first incident. So would they be more careful now or still a red flag. Please advise.
    Thanks,
    Sandy

  9. Sandy February 20, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

    PS the talk that this older counselor caught at this camp is that he had prior history with this behavior but was not caught at the other camps he worked at. it was discovered because the child told his parents. it was not discovered by the camp. then the other children came forward after the parents were notified to contact their child. we are deeply concerned as to whether this camp is even safer due to their recent experience and their strong desire not to have this repeated. or that it is a unsafe place since they did not have the measures to catch on their own.
    thank you again.

    • Kevin East February 21, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

      Sandy, I appreciate your question. To find out how the camp has addressed the issues, I would still go back to the 5 questions I listed. Through this horrible incident, they might have realized the gaping holes in their system, and have fixed them. It sounds like, at a minimum, they didn’t try to hide anything from you as a parent. That is commendable.

      If I were in your shoes, I would ask them to talk about the changes they have made in their camp environment in relation to the 5 questions in my post. I think their answers would be very revealing as to how safe the environment is.

      • Sandy February 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

        Thank you so much! Is it possible to consider that this could still be a safe camp or once violated at the camp…it’s not safe to return?

        • Kevin East February 28, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

          Good question. I think we are trained to think that once tainted, always tainted. However, I don’t think this is true. Personally, I care more about what is happening TODAY, because my kids would be attending this summer. What happened last year, or the year before or 30 years ago matters, but it isn’t my final decision maker. So yes, the camp could be safe, it just depends on how seriously they see this, and how that has caused them to put new systems in place to try to foster a safe environment at camp.

          • Sandy March 1, 2011 at 4:53 am #

            thank you so much.

  10. Tori Swanson February 20, 2011 at 11:48 pm #

    Do you have any special advice for parents of children with disabilities. My son has autism. I think he would benefit from camp but I am apprehensive about sendin him to camp because of his special needs.

    • Kevin East February 21, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

      Kids love camp. Depending on his level of autism, I would probably recommend different camps. We have had plenty of kids with Autism come to camp, and loved it. As well, some kids with Autism really struggle being in a loud atmosphere, with high interaction with multiple campers.

      Let me know if you would like to talk further, but overall I would tell you it greatly depends on your son. Hope that helps.

  11. Kim Hughes February 21, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    Great article. We love Pine Cove and our children have camped there for a few summers now. I think a great resource for anyone who works or volunteers with children is MinistrySafe.com. You may already know about it. We use it at our church and private christian school for all teachers, staff and even parent volunteers. Check it out! God Bless!

    • Kevin East February 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

      From what I know about them, I would recommend them as well. I have viewed some of their training materials, and it looks pretty sharp. One of my directors here is good friends with Greg & Kimberlee, who started that organization. He has nothing but great things to say about them. For years now, we have used Praesidium (praesidiuminc.com), as we continue our training in this area.

      • Kim Hughes February 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

        Greg and Kimberlee are wonderful, we belong to the same school and church. They have a great ministry. ;) As does Pine Cove!

  12. Scott G Thagard February 21, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Do you ask your potential staffers if they were victims of sexual abuse? Do you ask them their views on homosexuality? Do you ask them about their views and experiences with pornography? Do you ask them if the have gay friends or relatives and how that may affect them? Do you ask them what they would do if they thought a fellow staffer may be abusing a camper? If so, what would they do about it? The list could go on……thanks for what you do Kevin.

    • Kevin East February 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

      Without getting into the details of every question we ask, I would tell you we ask all sorts of very personal questions. Over the years we have changed/added/subtracted questions from our interview guide. It is a dynamic document that helps us get to know them as best we can in a one hour interview.

  13. Kelley Mathews February 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Hard to believe I met you while you were leading worship at Young Life during HS. Then we worked together at the Ranch… great memories. I’m ready to send my kids–this would be a great help towards that. Regardless, I’ll enjoy reading your posts and keeping up with camp that way. — Edelweiss

    • Kevin East February 23, 2011 at 11:33 am #

      It has been a long time! I hope to see your kids out here this summer. Glad my posts have been helpful.

  14. Jen Jurden February 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    We love Pine Cove camp!!!! We have been very blessed to have been able to send my daughter for the last several years. She loves it too. In fact, I KNOW, without a doubt, that I will hear the following comment EVERY Sunday, “I wished Pine Cove had a church. If they did I’d go.” Recently she has shared with me how Pine Cove has positively impacted her life and walk with the Lord. I’m sure she’d love to go again this year…we haven’t even registred….prob won’t unless we get picked! :)

  15. Chris Steele February 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    Kevin,

    I’m enjoying the blogs. Thanks for sharing. As a parent, I would want to know all of these things, but as a former staffer, I want to send my kids and trust the Lord and you and your team that camp will be a great time for them to meet Christ in new and deeper ways. Keep up the great work!

  16. Casey Hysell February 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    Great article! As a former staffer at Pine Cove, I know that the selection of your summer staff is a serious, thorough process – I was absolutely blessed to be a part of the Pine Cove family!

    Now, as a parent, I can certainly understand the concerns that parents have when selecting a camp for their kids – it remains a serious, thorough process for a multitude of new reasons!

    My daughter has begged to go to Pine Cove since she was old enough to listen and understand my stories about the experience! We’ve looked at several camp possibilities, but Pine Cove is the one we keep coming back to. I feel safe, comfortable, and confident sending her there for a week immersed in God’s love, surrounded by strong Christian role models. We’d love to be able to send her!!

  17. Shannon Roots February 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Looks like you have lots of former PC staffers on here! I am one too! As a matter of fact, my husband and I have never left the Christian camping ministries!

    Well, I am interested to know what you would tell your children about who to go to safely if they are bullied, etc. What is a very realistic scenario? We tried to prep our son last year with this and because we were not very familiar with the camp, we were kind of at a loss. We only had one contact there.

    Thanks!

    • Kevin East February 23, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

      85% of abuse in a camp setting is camper to camper. Now this “abuse” includes simple bullying as well. Point being, bullying is definitely something parents should be aware of.

      The easiest, most simple answer would be to tell your child they should let their counselor know asap. If it is a good camp, that has trained their staff well, the counselor should be all over it. If you aren’t confident about that, I’d suggest introducing your child to the camp director on the first day of camp. Then tell your child that is who they should find in the event that someone is picking on them.

      Each week of camp, I want my camp directors highly visible for introductions like this one. Campers need to feel the safety the camp director provides for the camp.

  18. Kim Minchew February 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    Thank you so much for the informative information.As a parent trying to make a solid choice whether or not to send my oldest son,who is 10,to Pine Cove,for the very first time is an I opener.Things can happen anywhere at anytime but you would Atleast not expect a Christian based setting.much appreciated!

  19. Sheila February 22, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    I think it’s important to visit a camp yourself if possible in advance. I came to several retreats at Pine Cove before we had our son come by himself. That helped us feel great about the excellent standard PC has and helped our son feel comfortable about coming there.

    • Kevin East February 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

      Yes, Sheila, I am the same way. I’d want to get a little familiar with the camp as well.

  20. Heather Sewell February 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    I just love Pine Cove and feel very comfortable sending my kids to a camp that I know puts so much into the training and equipping of their staff. These questions are great guidelines to use for any parent who is deciding where to send their kids for summer camp. Thank you for educating parents on the importance of camp safety.

  21. Josie February 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    I was one of those kids that transformed over 10 summers at PC! I even went to everything in between. So I guess you could say there is already a huge amount of trust there! I do worry about how mean kids can be to eachother and how is this handled at camp?

    • Kevin East February 24, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

      You are right, Josie; kids can be mean to each other. As you can imagine, this is handled so differently depending on the situation. Our goal is to constantly be aware of what is going on in camp, so that all distractions can be minimized.

  22. Mari February 24, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I’ve been telling my nieces and nephews about PC for years because I found it so life changing. I read your blog often and love it. I like that you are open and honest about things like this, it means that you are actively pursuing integrity on all fronts. Keep it up!

  23. cheryl gray February 24, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Thanks this was very helpful. My husband and I were asked just recently to take over a small christian retreat center in south Ms. We are definitely still in the learning stage. I attended Pine Cove and helped on work crew on weekends when they needed extra help. My 3 children were Pine Cove campers as well. Our little camp reminds me of PC in the very beginning. I’m so excited about this new adventure and a big life change for us!

    • Kevin East February 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

      Good to hear from you, Cheryl. I was just in Mississippi this week, meeting with a camp near Laurel. Let me know if I can do anything to help you and your new ministry.

  24. Kerry Krienke February 27, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Hi Kevin this is Kerry Sue Krienke “Wedding Planter’s” mom.

    Stephanie was telling Courtney that you were giving away a week at camp. We thought we would tell you about some young kids that our family has become involved with. It all started with the youngest boy who is now a 4th grader. I am a teacher at Ore City Elementary and he was in a class next door to mine when he was in first grade. Everyday he was having to sit out in the hallway because of his disruptive behavior. The next year I moved up to 2nd grade and had him in my class. I started to investigate about what could be causing his behavior. I found out he and his siblings were being raised by their great aunt who never had children of her own. Their parents were into drugs and could not take care of the kids. Their aunt has taken care of them living on a fixed income while battling cancer. Keeping the kids first in her life has made her more determined to survive her cancer. Their mom and dad have very little contact with them. The only activities besides school is what outside people like us do with them. Two years ago I took him to Target for some new clothes. This was his first time to Target and he was so amazed you could eat popcorn and shop! His siblings are a sister in 6th grade,brother in 7th and the oldest brother who is a sophmore. The kids struggle with self-esteem, trust in others and just surving life. They are very well behaved kids with good manners but yet are very impressionable. They attend a church that has about 15-20 members. They watch out for each other and love each other very much. Their house is in poor condition but it is more important to them that they stay together. They all are like sponges soaking up anything and everything that is given to them whether it be something tangible or just some of your time. Since becoming involved with this family we have helped out with Christmas, clothes, groceries, etc. all throughout the year. If there was a chance to send just one of these kids to camp for a week, I know they would be so excited! Even though I know what we do is helping them we receive a great blessing by just knowing them. Thank you for doing this and I know this week of camp will bless whoever you give it too!

    • Kevin East February 28, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

      Well it looks like we need to get at least one of these kids into camp! I already gave away a spot to camp as part of this post. BUT, I will be giving away more spots this spring on this blog, usually attached to some sort of blog I write about camp things. Let’s stay in touch about these kids. I’d love to think creatively how this could work.

      • Kerry Krienke March 3, 2011 at 12:44 am #

        Thank you so much for considering them. I took them to Splash Kingdom back in the Summer and you would have thought it was Disneyworld! The youngest one wrote about his most favorite place he had been on his TAKS test yesterday and it was Splash Kingdom. I can only imagine what any of them would have to say after Pine Cove! I know it would change their lives! Thanks again and God Bless you and your sweet family as you continue your ministry there!

  25. Hamilton December 21, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Kevin,
    I googled “sexual abuse at Pine Cove” and was pleased to find that your camp is taking this seriously. Let me tell you why I googled that phrase.

    When I attended Pine Cove back in the late 80′s, I vividly remember our counselor asking fellow fifth grade campers for back rubs alone in the cabin. I didn’t witness anything of an explicitly sexual nature. But the counselor and the boy would come out with their shirts off. I told my Mom because I didn’t know who else to tell. If your camp was faced with a similar report today, how would you handle it?

    It would be naive to think that back rubs by fifth graders qualify as legitimate massages or that counselors should request alone time with a camper.

    • Kevin East December 22, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

      Thanks for your question.

      The scenario you describe is definitely inappropriate. We have a zero tolerance policy today on similar type issues. Our entire staff of 1,300 people are clearly trained and informed of all our policies in regards to protecting every child that comes to camp.

      That being said, staff are to adhere to our “rule of 3,” meaning that they are to always be with at least 2 other people in private settings. Any type of confidential conversations had between a staffer and a camper are only to be had in an open, public setting. These might take place sitting on a picnic table near the fields, sitting on the side of a basketball court, or sitting outside the snack shop.

      Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Kevin