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Safety Doesn’t Happen by Accident: Safety Practices 
for Day and 
Overnight Camps

When it comes to ensuring your child’s safety and well-being, the buck stops with the camp director,”says Catherine Ross, communications officer with the Canadian Camping Association and former camp director. Her advice: do appropriate research, seek out answers to your questions, experience the camp first-hand and then, once you’ve made a decision, have faith.

Talk to the camp director

“If you’re a camp director, safety must be your number one priority,” says Ross. So after examining the camp’s website, which will likely address most safety concerns, have a conversation with the director.

“I not only encourage parents to call us before they register for camp, but also throughout the summer if they have concerns,” says Patti Thom, director of Camp Tanamakoon.

When asked about safety, Sol Birenbaum, director of Camp Walden, likes to tell parents, “Kids have been swimming in the lake at Camp Walden for decades, and the same safety standards that have always been in place, continue to be in place (i.e. the buddy system and lifeguard training). But, like all things, safety precautions continue to evolve each summer. And, any concern that’s top of mind for parents is also top of mind for camp directors.”

Addressing everything from physical safety to emotional well-being, a good director is committed to ensuring each child has a positive camp experience. “These days, the focus is on anxiety and nervousness,” says Birenbaum. Open communication is the best solution, and it starts by letting parents and campers know exactly what to expect. “In the past, an info night at a library would be enough; nowadays, I spend my time visiting families’homes. I gladly do this, knowing it will help everyone feel more comfortable come summer,” he says.

Ask about formal safety accreditations

Many camps have formal safety accreditations granted by provincial camp associations. Each provincial association has standards, outlined in detail online, that member camps must adhere to.

These standards often go above and beyond what is required by law. You can see a camp’s accreditation by visiting their website.

Just because a camp hasn’t sought accreditation, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t safe. Joining a provincial association involves more than abiding by their safety standards. It is, nonetheless, worth asking these camps why they aren’t accredited, and paying closer attention to their safety measures.

Ask about counsellor training

“The main concerns we get from parents are how we train our counsellors and what type of background checks we do,” says Thom. For her, the answer is simple: “Ninety per cent of our staff grew up with us as campers; they’ve been here since they were kids, and we’ve trained them as leaders.”

Camp staff are usually well-trained and knowledgeable, says Ross. 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.

Ask about access to medical attention

Next, find out whether the camp you’re sending your child to has a doctor and/or nurse on-site. “These days, we have more kids visiting our med lodge and more kids on medication, so we’ve responded by upping our medical staff,” says Joanne Kates, director of Camp Arowhon.

Have faith

Once your concerns have been addressed, says Birenbaum, “it’s time to trust your decision.” Parents can rest assured knowing a good camp’s number one priority is your child’s safety.

“From a research perspective, I can tell you that a US national study conducted at camps between 2006 and 2010 showed that rates of injury through camp experience were significantly lower than those of most organized sports,” says Stephen Fine, Ph.D., director of Hollows Camp and chair of the National Research Committee of the Canadian Camping Association. “From a personal perspective, as a camp director with 30 years’experience in Canada, I can attest to the same.”

As technology makes it possible for parents to be in constant communication with their children, sending them to camp where they’re not reachable can cause discomfort. Concern for a child’s safety is wholly justified, but it can also undermine (or slow) a child’s normal development if left unchecked.

Safety is ensured by well-trained, knowledgeable staff

At camping conferences, camp directors learn the principles of risk and crisis management. They assess the risks associated with their own camp and develop plans to eliminate or minimize those risks.

Where there is a body of water on the site, whether it is a pond, river, lake or ocean, strict rules are enforced by the Waterfront Director who oversees the staff and operation of all activities in the entire waterfront area.

No one is allowed in the swim area until the lifeguards are on duty. During recreational swims, campers swim with and watch out for their buddy in addition to being supervised by lifeguards. Spotters on shore with access to emergency rescue craft are assigned to watch sailboats or sailboards.

Counsellors accompany campers in canoes or kayaks. On the water or in wide-open spaces, counsellors teach campers how to protect themselves from the sun with hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and proper clothing. They encourage their campers to seek shade and drink lots of water.

Camps located in a forest teach campers to stay in populated areas. On trips away from the main site, campers are always accompanied by a counsellor.

Constantly, directors tour their site supervising the staff and overseeing all aspects of their operation. They write comprehensive policies and procedures, and then train their staff in their implementation. In turn, the counsellors teach their campers to be safe.

Former campers who are familiar with the rules and procedures also help to educate new campers. 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. Over the next few days, as they participate in each new activity, they gradually learn and use the safety rules, which are posted and carefully explained.

Fire and emergency drills are practiced early in each session.

Counsellors are certified in First-Aid, water safety and Cardio-Pulmonary-Resuscitation (CPR). They are observant and alert. They are the first to put on a lifejacket, closed-toe shoes or a safety helmet and harness to set the proper example for their campers to emulate.

Reprinted with permission by Our Kids, Trusted by Canadian parents since 1998, Our Kids is your source to the best summer camps, private schools and extracurriculars. Get the information and feedback you need at


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