These 3 letters can ease parents' minds on camp safety

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jun 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-21 21:43:57-04

BURLINGTON, Ky. — The weather-related death of a girl at Indiana's Camp Livingston may have some parents wondering about camp safety.

There are three letters that can calm those fears: ACA. It stands for the American Camp Association, which sets strict standards for how a resident camp should be run around the clock.

"It means that parents can be assured that the ACA-accredited camp has paid attention to the many hundreds of health and safety and site and facility and program standards," YMCA Camp Ernst Executive Director Eli Cochran said.

Weather this time of year can be unpredictable. Camp Livingston officials said lighting struck a tree, which then fell onto a cabin and killed 11-year-old camper Jadyn Larky early Tuesday morning.

At Camp Ernst, Cochran said the staff is prepared to handle storms that can pop up with little warning.

"We are lucky that our offices are connected with the county ... and so they alert us in case of any kind of impending storm. And we have, of course, storm shelters where the campers and their counselors can go if need be," she said.

The camper/counselor ratio is 6-to-1, with junior counselors providing even more supervision. All go through extensive safety training.

"We do rehearse emergencies during our staff training week, and the emergency procedures like a fire would be to assemble outdoors and make sure that everybody's present," Cochran said.

Cabins are required to have emergency exits. Strict guidelines are laid out for swimming in pools or lakes.

"We don't practice with the kids because we don't want to scare them, but the counselors are very well versed in how to manage a cabin group and help them have fun," Cochran said.

Not every camp is ACA-accredited; other standards are just as stringent. For example, the Boy Scouts' Camp Friedlander just received its new accreditation from Boy Scouts of America.

The best advice for parents considering a resident or day camp is to visit and see it in action.

What To Tell Kids

But what about kids who may have heard what happened at Camp Livingston and be fearful of going to summer camp now? Gail Rizzo, a child and family counselor with Saint Elizabeth Health Care, said Tuesday's incident should be addressed in an open and honest manner.

"A parent tells a kid to go have fun, that everybody's trained at the camp to keep them safe, and yes, we know that fluky stuff happens in the world, but that's an odd occurrence — it's not an everyday occurrence," she said.

In other words, playing is what camp is about, and kids shouldn't let fears get in the way of learning new things and making new friends. Interestingly, Rizzo said parents are likely to be much more worried about the issue than their children.

"By kind of getting their mind above their fears and encouraging their kids to go out and do stuff and find stuff to have a great time, they're actually helping their kid develop confidence that's going to carry through their teen years," she said.

For younger children, Rizzo said the message should be that the odds of another incident like Camp Livingston's are small, and kids should rely on counselors and adults to keep them safe.

Rizzo said it's a different message for pre-teens and tweens: "You want to make sure that you do safe things, and that's what we have power over, and if we start worrying about everything, we won't actually get to enjoy the good times that can happen at camp."