Keeping Kids Safe at Summer Camp
Dominique Walton, MD
From nature walks to cookouts to sing-a-longs -- camp has many fun and exciting things to offer kids freed from school and homework during the long, hot summer months.
But before packing your child off to camp, you should get to know what medical and safety services are available -- or not, as the case may be.
For starters, according to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, a good camp will have written health policies and protocols. And all children attending the camp should be required to have had a complete exam by a doctor in the past year and be up-to-date on all childhood shots.
Before camp starts, parents should make sure the leaders have a detailed health history of their child, including any significant illnesses, operations, injuries, allergies, and any current medical problems.
"A lot of camps have a nurse or other medical person on-site. That would be an important question to ask when looking at camps -- what kind of medical support do they have, and is there a place where kids can go if they don't feel well," says Garry Gardner, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Darien, Ill., and a member of the academy's national panel on injury and poison prevention.
"Most camps, I would think, would have first-aid supplies on the premises -- but that's a valid question as well. How do they stock the first-aid or the medical office or clinic?"
And not every problem is a physical illness or injury -- you also might want to know how the camp handles outbreaks of homesickness.
Eight out of 10 campers report being homesick at least one day at camp, according to American Camping Association statistics. The good news: Less than 10% of those cases are so serious -- the child becomes so anxious or depressed that he stops eating or sleeping -- that they are sent home.
What, Exactly, Will Your Kid Be Doing?
Gardner says parents should also ask questions about activities available at a potential camp. If your child will be involved in boating, swimming, or other water sports, for example, you'll want to know about such things as life jackets, supervision, and the CPR certification of instructors.
Another reason to ask about activities: if your child has specific allergies.
For instance, parents of children with allergies to horses will want to know if campers will be taken horseback riding or exposed to horses on nature walks. If necessary, parents should send along Benadryl or Epi-pens for children who could suffer a serious attack if exposed to a known allergen, such as a bee sting, Gardner says.
Some camps may provide these things, but it can't hurt to send your own supplies just in case.
While parents probably will not be told about every cut, scrape, or bruise their child gets at camp, they will want to familiarize themselves with the procedure in place to deal with a serious situation, such as a broken bone or an illness. This is particularly important for parents whose children attend camps far from home.