T hTeh eJ eJw i sih e en n jmuay n e 2240, , 2012 2013 ew s hH ohm om
Cover Story Rena Zingmond
ummer is around the corner and families nationwide are gearing up for the long-awaited outdoor fun. While kids may be bursting with impatience for the start of the camp season, parents may be battling other emotions at the thought of sending their children away for any amount of time, whether it be a few hours, weeks or months. In addition to providing their children with an enjoyable camp experience, parents today want to make sure it happens in the safest way possible. We spoke with Debbie Fox, LCSW, to learn what parents can do to ensure their kids a safer summer camp experience. Mrs. Fox is well known for her active involvement in promoting child safety all year round. Beginning at Aleinu Family Resource Center, a program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Mrs. Fox developed the nationally renowned Safety Kid® Program, which continues to educate over 20,000 students in the yeshiva system about abuse awareness and prevention. Her newest program, Project SafeCamp, is a comprehensive counselor training program aimed specifically at promoting safety in summer camps. Mrs. Fox suggests a three-prong approach for parents to follow, aimed at keeping kids safe and parents worry-free. She advises parents to ask questions of a camp beforehand, discuss safety awareness with your children once a camp is chosen, and to be on the lookout for signs of any discomposure upon their returning home. Ask Questions before Choosing a Camp Knowledge is power. It pays to get an early start in researching camps and their policies. Ask specific questions and, if it helps you remember, write down the answers. Asking questions lets the camp know that safety is important to you and that you expect a certain level of standards. You’ll breathe more easily after resolving your doubts and shedding a light on the unknown. Some important questions to ask are: • How are disciplinary and behavioral problems handled? • What kind of training do counselors receive before camp? Does the training include personal safety such as unwanted or inappropriate touch? • Are criminal background checks performed on all personnel? • How many references does the camp require and what is the process of checking those references? • What is the camp policy about supervision during changing or bedtimes? • At what point would a parent be notified about an issue with a camper? • To whom can the campers turn to if they feel uncomfortable or at risk, and is that clearly communicated to the campers themselves?
Posing questions and concerns to camps of interest will not only endow you with a better ability to make a more educated decision, it also sends a message to camps that parents take safety seriously and expect a viable plan of action. Summer camps, which are highly competitive, will be more likely to add safety training and awareness to their list of priorities when observing the interest and involvement displayed by prospective parents. Your questioning alone can spur camps to reevaluate their safety procedures, to everyone’s best interest. After asking your questions, pay attention to the answers. Says Rabbi Ronald Greenwald, director of Camp Sternberg, a girls’ camp in Narrowsburg, NY, “It’s important to choose a camp that acknowledges that these issues exist and endeavors to prevent them from happening. Be wary of statements like, ‘Things like that don’t happen here.’” If you are not comfortable with the director’s responses or camp policies, see what may result from offering positive recommendations. It’s safe to say that most camps place camper safety at the top of their priority lists; it just boils down to choosing the approach you feel is right for your child. Mrs. Stern was faced with a conundrum. All of her eleven-year-old son’s friends were going to a camp that confiscated cellphones from the minute they arrived on the premises until returning home. The boys would not be provided with any other means to contact their parents. When Mrs. Stern questioned the camp regarding this policy, the director responded that he felt it was important for the boys to mature and learn to handle things on their own. When Mrs. Stern inquired further as to camp procedures for handling emergencies or other significant issues, the director replied, “We’ve been involved with this for a long time – we know what we’re doing.” Mrs. Stern did not feel comfortable with the lack of contact she would have with her son under this particular camp’s rules. She was faced with a dilemma. Should she allow her child to attend the camp his friends were going to – to which he desperately wanted to go – or should she listen to her instincts and do that what she feels is safest for her son? We’ve all heard the familiar refrain, “But everyone else’s parents let!” If you couldn’t help rolling your eyes just now, we understand. It is always difficult to go against the grain, especially when the grain includes a desperate, uncomprehending, pleading child, who just wants to fit in and be with his friends. Ultimately, parents must find the strength to choose what they feel is the wisest, safest option for their kids, even if it’s not the popular choice. Mrs. Fox adds, “There are times when being a parent does not make us popular with our children. Our responsibility is to be their parent – not their friend.” Sometimes it takes that one parent to stand up for what s/he believes in to give others the strength to follow suit, enabling decisions to be based truly on what is best for the child.
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