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Safety First at Camp
How camps protect kids first

By Christl Dabu, Our Kids The Summer Camp Guide 2012

Camps live by this mantra: If it’s not safe, don’t do it.

Parents can be assured that campers' safety is the director’s first priority, says Catherine Ross, communications officer with the Canadian Camping Association and former president of the Society of Camp Directors.

"Campers are safe and secure because directors carefully plan for the expected and the unexpected," Ross writes in the Our Kids Preparing for Camp e-book, which can be downloaded for free at camps.ca/2012. "Upon arrival, campers learn the most important safety rules, which they are expected to obey without question – rules such as: no swimming without permission, no boating without permission or no walking alone in the woods."

Before camp even begins, Ross says, the entire site, indoors and out, is closely inspected and necessary repairs are made. Camps provide emergency services with maps and directions to the site.

"Camps work every minute of every day to make sure children are safe in our programs," says Dave Graham, Ontario Camps Association (OCA) board member and director of Camp Kandalore, a traditional overnight camp in Minden, Ont.

Many camps safeguard campers by becoming accredited with their provincial camping association, and voluntarily abide by additional standards, according to Ross.

"Accreditation sets best practices for how camps operate, which helps ensure they’re safe for children," says Harry Edwards, president of the Canadian Camping Association.

Camp staff are usually well-trained and knowledgeable, Ross says. Requirements for qualifications will vary according to the staff member’s role, location and program. The waterfront director, for example, requires National Lifeguard Service (NLS) certification. Trip leaders in situations where boating or swimming is involved require Bronze Cross, standard first aid and CPR. First aid and CPR are part of pre-camp training in many camps. Though it’s not mandatory for all camps unless required by legislation or an accreditation group, many camps do a criminal record check for each new staff member.

- With a file by Sharon Aschaiek

"When our kids take part in canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing or mountain rappelling, they’re supervised by staff who are certified in those areas," adds Gordon Hay, director of Venture Academy in Kelowna, B.C., which runs a camp for troubled teens.

Many camps have smaller camper-to-staff ratios, especially if the children are young or have special needs, according to Ross. For instance, the overall ratio of at least 8:1 is mandatory for OCA-accredited camps.

Though camp is a place that brings joy to children, Ross says first and foremost, "Safety overrules fun."


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