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Challenge: Summer Fun

Is Your Child's Day Camp Safe? Know Before You Go!

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I just read this story on Scary Mommy about a child who lost her life at a summer camp, and what her parents wish they had known/thought of beforehand. While the story was tragic, terrifying, and incredibly sad, it highlights some VERY important truths you may not realize about camps (and daycare facilities, really).

You can read the full article here.

In a nutshell, Elena Matyas recounts the day her 6-year-old drowned at a day camp, the six mistakes she feels she, as a parent, made, and then a list of questions you should be asking before enrolling in similar programs.

(That is a SUPER small nutshell. Seriously, go read her story first, then come back to me!)

Elena’s article really struck a nerve with me. No, I haven’t lost a child, nor have I ever enrolled one in a summer camp. But I HAVE worked in facilities that offer such programs. And, while Elena’s story comes from California, I’m here to tell you: I live in Ohio (allll the way across the country), and I’ve seen first hand the same exact lack of standards that her family became victim to.

OK, quick background on me, so you guys know I’m not blowing smoke here…

I began working at my first daycare facility around the age of 22.

I did not go to college for childcare. I had a degree in Mass Communications and a friend who happened to be related to the facility director. I had zero experience with young children in a formal setting, and I had no ambition to make a career of what I assumed was babysitting. This was simply a job I lucked into because it paid better than fast food and it was convenient at the time.

The daycare did require I pass a background check before beginning work there. However, I had a full 30 days from my actual start date to complete four 6-hour courses: First Aid, CPR, Communicable Diseases, and Child Abuse Detection and Prevention.

My first “job” at this daycare was in the infant room. That’s right. I had never yet changed a diaper in my life, but I was, right off the batt, given the responsibility of assisting one other employee with caring for 8 babies at a time, for 8 hours a day, 5 day per week.

I know I’m making myself sound awful here, but I’m just trying to illustrate how very little skill you are required to possess when being hired by one of these places (in my state, at least). The only real requirements that are state-mandated to put you on that payroll are: being 18-years or older, having a high school diploma, and no criminal record.

MY story gets a little more legit and fluffy after this. I happened to tap into a love I never knew I could have and began aspiring to become a preschool teacher. I started taking adult education classes, aiding other licensed teachers, and ultimately earning a CDA in childcare. I happily taught preschool for several years, before quitting to become a stay-at-home parent.

Throughout my journey as a preschool teacher, I worked in two different facilities that doubled as daycare and summer camp programs.

Guys, I’m here to tell you that the questions Elena urges you to ask, should be asked – even in a different state, across the country.

Because, honestly, I’ve seen some stuff.

Elena’s questions and why I know them to be important:

(Disclaimer: this is stuff *I* have seen while working in childcare at facilities in Ohio, over several years. I am not speaking for any other state and their laws. I also acknowledge that there are plenty of facilities in my state doing everything right.)

1. “Is the camp licensed, and if so, what does that mean?” If your child is attending a camp that is at a daycare facility, yeah, the daycare is going to have state credentials. But, you need to think beyond the facility. Most of these day camps take field trips. What kind of vehicles and safety restraints are available for excursions? Who is allowed to drive them, and did they take a two-hour course on the fly to become “certified?”

2. “Does any governmental authority inspect the camp?” Camps being run by a daycare – the answer is no. The daycare gets inspected, but the camp is considered part of the facility and not held to any different standards.

3. “Does the camp run background checks on ALL employees EVERY year?” Where I live, nope! You get one when you’re hired, but then that’s it for a while! 5 years, to be exact.

4. “What are the qualifications of camp operators?” Well, day camps are great jobs for college kids on summer vacay, right? At the facilities I have worked around, the qualifications for camp operators were the same as a regular daycare employee. High school diploma, clean record, 18 or older. So, yep – I’ve definitely seen a 19-year-old get hired on Monday, and then assisting with chaperoning field trips to the Zoo or water parks by Friday. Never mind that they weren’t trained in first aid yet – they’ve got 30 whole days for that and the camp needs help NOW!

5. “How and when are employees trained?” Ugh, see above answer. I’ve witnessed A LOT of on the fly training.

6. “Does the camp employ a qualified health director?” I can’t say that I know how other camps or daycare facilities operate with this one. But, I DO know that the answer to those questions where I was employed is a big, fat no. The ‘facility director’ is trained in first aid, CPR, and all that other stuff required of employees…So, does that count?

7. “Who conducts lifeguard and CPR training, and where does such training occur?” In my experience, only the state-mandated training courses were necessary. But, again, required within 30 days of employment. And there are loopholes in the rules. Someone not yet trained in CPR can go on a field trip, as long as so many other employees present ARE trained. So…I guess, just pray the one untrained isn’t watching your kid?

8. “How is the staff supervised?” In my experience, this is actually laughable (though not funny AT ALL). While regular daycare staff was held at a high standard, the summer campers and staff were always a bit more relaxed. As long as they were getting back from field trips on time and with the correct amount of kids, no questions were asked of the 3 or 4 19-year-olds, who just took your kids to the pool, and came back showing off their roll of selfies from the past three hours.

9. “What are the policies for parent communication and visits?” Anywhere I have ever worked, the policy was always “open door,” which is awesome! However, I did know employees who were immediately annoyed by “overbearing parents” asking completely logical questions and dropping in whenever they felt like it. Like, how dare they demand to KNOW things about their kids’ day! Pfft. I always thought – if you’re that annoyed, maybe you ARE doing something questionable.

Bottom line: I just want you to know that it is NEVER wrong to question credentials and standards when your children’s well-being is involved.

I was lucky all those years ago to fall into a job that became a passion. But, not everyone is like me. Not everyone is going to go get the continued education and make it their career and their love. And what’s more, our state does not require everyone to go as far as I did.

It is absolutely true that right this very moment, a barely-out-of-high school kid is watching a group of kids at a daycare or a camp. They have NOT yet received their first aid and CPR training. They have no idea how to speak to a child “on their level.” They do not know the difference between raising a voice to be heard, and screaming at a child.

It’s also absolutely true that right this very moment, there’s a 40-year-old watching a group of kids at a daycare or a camp. They, too, have not yet received proper training.

Just, heed Elena’s warning.

Ask questions.

DON’T relax.

It’s YOUR child and you have the right to know EVERYTHING.

Please visit for more information about Elena’s cause, in honor of her daughter, Roxie, and in advocacy for others!

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