Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association and are they up-to-date with certifications and training?
The American Camp Association sets guidelines for camps, provides resources for camp personnel, and helps the general public know what to look for when selecting camps. Visit http://www.ACAcamps.org for more information and search their database for finding ACA-accredited camps.
How are staff trained and evaluated?
- Check that CORI screening (screens for criminal records) is done for all staff working with children.
- Find out what type of first aid training the staff gets and how often. Make sure staff are trained in first aid, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and seizure first aid.
- Ask about the experience and training of staff in childhood development, special needs and camping.
- Find out who supervises and trains the camp counselors. Is this person able to work with parents on special needs that your child may have?
What is the staff/camper ratio?
Will your child get enough attention and supervision?
- Know the staff/camper ratio for your child.
- Ask specifically about the number of staff available when campers have overnights or participate in high-risk activities such as rope climbing, swimming, or other potentially dangerous activities for children with seizures.
What is the availability of one-to-one supervision for your child if needed?
Staffing ratios and supervision needs will vary depending on the type and location of camp.
- If your child needs one-on-one all the time, talk to the camp director well ahead of time.
- Consider working with your child’s special education program, if appropriate. They may have summer programs that would match the child’s needs or be able to recommend other summer opportunities.
- Close supervision of a child during high-risk activities should also be discussed early. If your child needs more supervision than the camp provides other campers, ask for accommodations to maintain his or her safety.
- If the camp is not able to provide what your child needs, look into camps with higher staff/camper ratios.
What is the return rate for staff and campers?
Do staff and campers like the camp enough to come back?
- A high turnover rate for staff may leave a camp with many new and less-experienced staff.
- If campers don't return regularly, find out why. It may be due to staff problems, or maybe the camp isn't as exciting as it sounds.
What level of medical supervision is available?
- Find out if there are medical personnel on-site (meaning that a nurse or doctor is at the camp while the campers are there) or if they are available ‘on-call’ (which means they come only if called or for parts of a day).
- If a medical professional is not available, you’ll want to make sure that counselors who provide first aid (and seizure safety) are properly trained.
- If your child needs seizure medication at any time during camp, make sure that the staff can give these safely.
- Once you find out the level of medical supervision, make sure this matches with your child’s needs and that you and your child’s doctor feel comfortable with this plan.
Is the camp able to accommodate special needs for diet, devices, mobility or other issues?
- If your child is on the ketogenic or other type of diet for epilepsy, find out how meals are prepared and if meals need to be sent in.
- If your child may need to be given Diastat or another medication at times of changes in seizures, make sure that staff can do this in the camp setting and that there is a place for your child to recover.
- For children with VNS Therapy, make sure that the magnet can be used easily. If a child has a different device or has had epilepsy surgery, make sure that staff are educated about the treatment and what to do. If camp staff are not familiar with these treatments for epilepsy, talk to your local Epilepsy Foundation Affiliate (link to find an affiliate), your child's doctor, or nurse for help training camp staff.
- If your child needs to rest or needs help walking after a seizure, make sure there are places and people who can provide this.
What is the camp environment like?
- Do your own check to make sure the camp is accessible and safe for your child.
- If the child has difficulties moving around and needs help (ie. cane, crutches, wheelchair or other device) make sure these can be used in the camp setting.
- Make sure the camp setting is not too crowded and look at the 'natural' hazards in the area. Would you child injure himself too easily if he had a seizure? Are there too many places where he can fall?
- Pay particular attention to the swimming facilities. Make sure there is enough supervision by the waterfront.
- Look at campfire safety and the amount of supervision available.
- Check out safety precautions used for rope courses or other climbing activities.
- For over-night camps, check out the cabins or where the campers sleep for safety risks and the level of supervision.
How flexible is the schedule for camp sessions and for daily routines?
- Ask for a schedule of activities for a typical day - does it match your child's interests and needs?
- Is it flexible to accommodate any special needs your child may have?
- Is it flexible enough to manage seizures during each activity?
- Can your child leave early or arrive late if he has a bad day or needs to go to a doctor’s appointment?
What is the camp’s safety record?
- Find out how frequently injuries or safety problems have happened, and most importantly, how the camp has responded to them.
How do staff handle the social and emotional problems of campers? What are their disciplinary procedures?
Some children with seizures may have social or emotional problems that may influence their camping experience or that may come out during new experiences.
- Make sure that staff know any current problems or needs that your child has and the way that these are handled.
- Also find out how staff manages behavior problems and how bullying is prevented or handled.
How well do camp staff work with parents? What forms of communication are in place?
Your child’s camping experience will in part depend on how comfortable you feel with the camp and staff. Teamwork between you and the staff is critical.
- For children with frequent seizures or other special needs, the camp staff will be ‘caregivers’ of your child – they’ll need to know they have parent support and parents need to feel supported by the staff as well.
- Find out what form of communication works best. If you use seizure diaries or logs at home, ask staff to do the same. If you use an electronic/online seizure diary, can they use it too?
- Put a communication book in your child’s backpack and ask the camp nurse and counselor to write down any seizures or other concerns that occurred each day. You can use this to share what goes on at home too! Staff will need to know if your child had a seizure at night, as that may affect how they feel during the day at camp.
Is transportation available to and from camp?
If your child is attending a day camp, can you get him or her there regularly?
- If your child will take a bus, work with the bus company, driver and bus monitors or counselors to make sure they know seizure first aid.
- If this is not possible, consider other transportation plans, vans or car-pooling options in your community.
What should I do next?
While you are collecting information about camps, write down what you have learned and other questions that arise.
- Share your feelings with your partner, spouse or another close adult.
- Don’t forget to include your child - What do they want to do? How do they want to have information about seizures disclosed to others? Do they understand why counselors need to know?
- While some children may need help talking about their epilepsy, others may do better than their parents! Kids can also be very creative in how they manage their seizures.
- Lastly, make sure your own fears or worries don’t get in the way of making sure that your child has a safe and fun camping experience!