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Column: How to ensure your child's summer camp is safe
Ellen Reynolds
Ellen Reynolds

This is the time of year when parents begin looking for Georgia-based summer camps for their children. While camps usually provide kids with fun, enriching, memorable experiences, parents should go into the search process knowing that not all camps are created equal.

High-quality summer camp experiences benefit children. They can build confidence, develop relationships and teach conflict resolution. In the absence of regular enrichment over the summer break, research finds that children typically lose as much as two months of learning in math. Reading comprehension and spelling skills can also take a hit. High-quality summer camps can provide learning experiences that keep their young minds stimulated.

But not all camps meet that standard.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, and lower-cost and lower-quality summer camps can be downright dangerous for young children. In 2018, a 5-year old boy drowned at an unlicensed summer camp, a 14-year-old boy died after a tree fell on his tent during stormy weather, and a third child was shot and killed by another student while attending a camp that catered to teens with disabilities.  

Unlike licensed child care centers that must follow more than 400 health and safety rules and regulations, summer camps in Georgia can operate legally for 12 hours per day under an exemption from the Department of Early Care and Learning’s regulations. At the end of last summer, there were approximately 4,800 exempt programs operating across Georgia. And many more summer camps operate illegally without an exemption or a license.

So how do parents know whether a summer camp is a high-quality program? When looking at options, parents should be aware that there are no guarantees that health and safety standards are enforced in exempt programs. Start by asking questions. 

Ask whether the summer camp is licensed. In Georgia, summer programs serving children up to age 13 are required to either be licensed by the state or to obtain a legal exemption. If the summer camp is not licensed, ask to see their exemption from the DECAL or email DECAL at CCSExemptions@decal.ga.gov to ask whether the summer camp you are considering is licensed or exempt.  

Ask whether and what kind of background checks are required of employees. 

Ask whether staff are required to complete training in first aid and CPR. Does the staff-to-child ratio and group size fit into the Georgia maximum staff-to-child ratio? Is there a daily lesson plan? Does the summer camp staff have experience working with early childhood, school-age children or children with special needs? 

By asking these questions, parents can ensure that they are enrolling their children in high-quality, safe and fun summer camps that will help their children maintain academic gains and continue to their developmental growth.

Ellen Reynolds is the CEO of the Georgia Child Care Association.

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