Updated: Jun 11
As a parent, finding childcare or keeping your kids entertained during holidays can be stressful. This is especially true during winter, spring, and summer break, which are traditional holidays in the US. While day camps can be a great way to keep kids entertained during these periods, there is a dark side to day camps that parents need to be aware of.
It is vital for parents to understand that while there are regulations for childcare facilities, there are none for day camps in the following eleven states: California, Washington D.C., Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Vermont. This means that day camps can operate without background checks, CPR training, child/adult ratios, or required reporting of injury and death. You can check out your state's standings here.
How is this possible? In California and other states, one of the exempt groups from child care licensing is "public and non-profit programs designed to provide recreation on a part-time basis." This means that day camps are not required to follow the same regulations as childcare facilities, even though they provide a similar service. Unfortunately, this lack of regulation can lead to devastating consequences.
The American Camp Association estimates that more than 700 day camps in California enroll over 1.2 million kids each summer. However, the distinction between day camps and childcare facilities is unclear. This can be a cause for concern, as parents may not be fully aware of the policies and procedures in place for the safety of their children.
Multiple families experienced horror when they lost their children in a day camp-related accident that could have easily been prevented. This tragedy prompted a push by California Assemblymember Chris Holden in 2022 to pass Bill AB-1737, which would regulate children's day camps. However, the bill died in November when it moved to the Senate, leaving children unprotected by a loophole.
The bill would have required all day camps to register with the state Department of Social Services, conduct background checks for all staff, and require staff to be trained as "mandated reporters," people legally required to report suspicions of abuse. It would also have required non-government camps with certain activities like ziplining, archery, river rafting, and riflery to submit their operational and emergency plans. Unfortunately, without appropriate childcare funding, the Department of Social Services would be unable to do this with the current childcare crisis at hand.
In the absence of regulation, it is crucial for parents to take steps to protect their children. This includes reading the fine print of all sign-up forms, terms, and conditions, and contracts. Parents should also ask questions about ratios and their staff's certifications. Check to see if there is someone to handle medical emergencies or lifeguards by the water at all times. By doing so, parents can ensure that their children are safe while attending day camps. In addition, parents can also consider the following tips to ensure the safety of their children:
Research the day camp and read reviews from other parents.
Talk to other parents who have sent their children to the same day camp.
Consider enrolling your child in a day camp that is accredited by the American Camp Association.
Special Needs Parents: Be upfront and ask if the camp has the appropriate accommodations and staff for your child to attend. By not disclosing that your child needs accommodations or extra help, you are risking your and other children's safety. Most camps are happy to make accommodations when told in advance.
While day camps can be a great way to keep kids entertained during holidays, parents need to be aware of the potential dangers that come with them. It is important for parents to do their own research and take steps to protect their children, as regulations for day camps may not be in place in their state. If you need help, don't hesitate to reach out for a free childcare consult or download my guide Choosing Childcare 101 guide with Nanny Village Agency, to discover all your childcare options.