Even if you have already enrolled your child in camp, it’s not too late to talk with the camp director about child sexual abuse prevention. Make sure prevention is not only on the director’s radar, but that there are policies and practices in place.
Three Questions Every Parent Should Ask
If you ask nothing else, ask these questions of camp directors:
- Beyond background checks, what is the screening process for new hires?
- What kind of child sexual abuse prevention training do you offer staff and volunteers?
- What specific policies are in place to minimize the risk of child sexual abuse at your camp?
Look for camps that have a three-part staff interview process: Background checks, personal interviews, and reference checks. Ideally, interviews should include questions about counselors’ boundaries with children and a discussion of the camp’s zero tolerance of sexual abuse.
Camps typically provide orientation for staff. Find out if and how the orientation includes training about child sexual abuse prevention. The training should dispel common myths about sexual abuse, introduce body-safety policies, cover how sexual abusers groom children, and identify warning signs that someone is abusing or being abused.
When it comes to policies, make sure there is a rule for adults spending time alone with children (two adults to one child); appropriate and inappropriate touch of children by adults – and by other children. If your child is going to a sleep-away camp, also ask about showering policies and sleeping arrangements.
If you’re new at asking these kinds of questions, consider these words of encouragement from Tommy Feldman, Founder and Director of Altogether Outdoors Summer Camps, who says, “Please don’t hesitate to ask any camp director questions so you can be confident that child sexual abuse is on the camp’s radar.”
Inviting Camp Counselors onto Your Prevention Team
You may not have a chance to talk with the camp counselor until the first day of camp, but nonetheless, this conversation is also important because the counselor(s) interacts most directly with your child.
- How do you monitor older kids mentoring/spending time with younger kids?
- What are the situations where a counselor might be alone with a child?
- How would you handle a situation if you saw a child exploring sexually with another child? What if one of the children was coercing the other child vs. exploring?
Thirty to 50 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by youth, so it’s important to discuss policies for older kids spending time with younger kids. Just as a counselor should never be alone with a child, an older camper should not be spending time one-on-one with a younger camper either.
Inviting camp staff onto your prevention team is a conversation – an extension of the safety conversations you’re probably already having about other topics.
The main objective here is to make your presence known – i.e., “I am Audrey’s Mom,” which also means, “I am Audrey’s Mom and I am paying attention.”
How to Start the Conversation
You might start the conversation by letting the counselor know that you talk with all of your child’s caregivers about body safety and that you’d like to share your child’s body-safety rules – i.e., that your child doesn’t keep secrets from you and has permission to tell you about anything that makes him/her worried or uncomfortable. I also recommend that parents tell camp caregivers that their children know that they are the boss of their body. In addition, I advise you to tell the counselor that while your children know to follow adult rules, they also have permission to say “No,” and tell an adult if someone makes an unsafe request.
An aunt I spoke with enrolled her niece and nephew in a week-long day camp. She had already spoken to the central office, but wanted to connect directly with the counselors on day one.
“As I was waiting in line to talk with the counselor, I looked across the field and saw the public restroom, which reminded me to ask about bathroom policies and accompanying kids to the bathroom. When I got the counselor’s attention, I asked him about the rules for adults taking children to the bathroom. He told me that kids went in pairs, and a counselor would never be alone with a child. I felt good that there was a policy in place and that I had the courage to have the conversation.”
If you’re wondering how to confidently get a conversation about body-safety off the ground, check out Parenting Safe Children Conversation-Starter Cards. The cards offer language for starting a conversation about expectations, boundaries and body-safety rules. You can carry the cards with you hand them out to counselors as you bring up the conversation.
Feather Berkower, LCSW, is founder of the Parenting Safe Children workshop and co-author of Off Limits, a parenting book that will change the way you think about keeping kids safe. Since 1985, Feather has educated over 100,000 schoolchildren, parents, and professionals. She makes a difficult topic less scary, and empowers parents and communities to keep children safe. www.parentingsafechildren.com