Holiday Vacation Camp


Most YMCAs host holiday vacation camps over the course of the year. The purpose of camp is to provide a safe, supportive, and nurturing environment for both camper and counselor. Many of your counselors are temporary part-time employees who may not have had the benefit of safety training. We encourage you to spend some time with these employees and provide training that includes, sexual abuse prevention as a minimum.

Counselor Responsibilities and Supervision

What are the responsibilities of a counselor?

  • Being a proper role model
  • Exercising proper judgment
  • Minimizing threats to the camper’s safety

How can these expectations be met?

  • By placing the needs of the camper before the needs of the counselor. Remind your staff:
    • Counselors will face difficult situations
    • Counselors must take charge
    • Counselors must manage relationships with the campers and their interactions with one another
  • By being prepared for anything

How do counselors avoid putting their campers and themselves in jeopardy?

  • By taking their positions seriously
  • By fulfilling their responsibilities
  • By supervising the campers

How important are Supervision Ratios?

  • They are the only way to ensure proper supervision
    • Without proper ratios there cannot, by definition, be proper supervision
    • Minimums are set by various jurisdictions: State, ACA, Your YMCA
  • Even acceptable ratios don’t always mean acceptable supervision
    • When would you increase ratios?
      • In high-alert areas
      • At off-site areas where non-staff visitors are present
      • If unknown people are on the premises
    • When is it OK to let ratios slide? NEVER!

Playground Safety

Some Facts

  • 200,000 children are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for playground injuries every year
  • About half of playground injuries are severe – fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, amputations, and strangulations
  • 90% of the most severe injuries are caused by falls to the ground

How can your staff prevent playground injuries?

  • By inspecting the equipment – everyday
    • Staff should inspect the equipment and grounds to ensure safe conditions before the children go onto the playground to play; in applicable climates, remember to check for dew or frost
    • Make sure that adequate, properly maintained resilient material is present underneath the play equipment
    • Check on and around equipment for
      • Glass
      • Needles
      • Bottles
      • Slippery surfaces
    • Do not allow children to play on equipment that is in disrepair, or that you feel may be unsafe
    • Move the children away and follow your YMCAs procedures for handling broken glass, etc.
  • Always supervise children who are using playground equipment
    • Maintain supervision ratios adequate to provide good supervision in all areas of the playground. Ratios may vary according to layout, surroundings, etc. You may have to exceed mandated supervision ratios to ensure appropriate supervision
    • All staff must actively supervise – no talking or other personal activities should occur
    • Maintain continual visual and auditory contact with the children - be aware of areas that are out of line-of-sight and don’t allow children to play in them
    • Counselors should be spread out so that all areas of the playground are in view
    • During transition times, i.e., when moving between facility and playground, continue to maintain supervision ratios, with proper visual and auditory contact at all times
  • Ensure safe and appropriate equipment use.
    • Allow children to use only age-appropriate equipment
    • Pay attention to entrapment hazards
    • Never allow children to wear necklaces, purses, scarves, or other clothing with drawstrings while on playground equipment
  • Prevent unsafe behaviors
    • Pushing
    • Shoving
    • Crowding
    • Any use of equipment in a manner other than its intended purpose

End of Day Safety

  • Statistically this is when kids get hurt – half of the accidents and incidents occurred between 4 pm and 8 pm
  • Staff is tired and may be distracted by closing activities; cessation of formal programming may allow
    • Ratios to get out of control
    • Kids’ behavior to get out of control
  • Remember: threats are just as great at the end of the day as at any other time
  • Accidents also, for unknown reasons, are frequently more serious during this time
  • While attention should never falter, this is the time of day to be specially diligent
    • Reduce the size of the area that kids can use
    • Maintain constant supervision, both during and between activities
  • You are responsible for the campers’ safety until the parents get the children

Child Sexual Abuse Prevention


  • Significance of bullying
    • one of the top three reasons children don’t return to a program
    • Two-thirds of bullying cases go unreported
      • Kids don’t feel adults can solve these problems
      • Adults (staff) may not respond because “kids will be kids”
  • Bullying involves the following behavior

    • Aggressive behavior or intentional “harm-doing”
    • Carried out repeatedly and over time
    • An imbalance of power exists between aggressor and victim
  • Types of Bullying

    • Physical
      • Most common type
      • Includes punching, hitting, shoving, hair pulling, excessive tickling, or stealing
      • Extremes: inappropriate or unwanted touching, exhibiting of body, inflicting bodily harm
    • Verbal
      • Harder to identify unless you are within earshot
      • Includes hurtful name-calling, mocking, teasing, gossiping, intimidation, threatening, or embarrassment
      • Extremes: ongoing sexual harassment, escalating rudeness, verbal threat of violence or bodily harm, threat of retaliation for reporting bullying – e.g., new girl called “a cow”
    • Relational
      • Exclusion from a game or activity (ex: sitting with a specific group at lunch)
      • Making critical comments meant to hurt
      • Extremes: coercion, malicious rumors, ethnic slurs, and threat of total isolation
  • How you can manage bullying?

    • Take a proactive approach to supervising and monitoring signs of bullying – Watch, Listen, Interact
    • Pay attention to higher risk children:
      • Males
      • Kids who are overweight, don’t fit in, or who have developmental disabilities
    • Intervene as soon as you notice signs of bulling – 85% of bullying incidents occur without intervention
    • Ask what you can do to make the child feel safe – children are dependent on the staff for safety
    • Work your mission: Honesty, Responsibility, Caring, and Respect
    • Provide a clear message of support to children who are bullied; it will provide an environment that is safe for children.
    • Remember: bullying is not kids being kids – it is kids being mean and it is your duty to stop it.

Facts: Child Sex Abuse

  • Annually, approx. 80,000 reported cases of sexual abuse
    • actual number is far greater
    • two-thirds of abuse cases go unreported
  • one in four girls and one in six boys will be abused before age 18

What happens if we don’t protect campers? * Effects of abuse are devastating * The stress inflicted on abused children can cause anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem * Abused children are 14 times more likely to commit suicide than their peer group * Abused children are 40 times more likely to use drugs * Less than 5% of abuse allegations are false

Where are kids abused at Camps?

  • Changing rooms
  • Locker rooms
  • Bathrooms
  • Off site - usually where a relationship has begun at the Y
  • Anywhere they can be alone with or have access to a child

When are kids abused?

  • Pool time
  • Quiet Hours
  • Free time and Roaming Activities

The Internet and Counselor-Camper Interactions Outside of Camp

  • Be aware of your camp’s policy on contact between campers and counselors outside of camp
  • This includes online, email, and phone contact, and face-to-face
  • The availability of public blog sites like,, and open opportunities for inappropriate camper exposure and child abuse
  • Staff and counselors should not share contact information with campers
  • Staff should be careful of the messages made available on their personal websites
    • some information may not be appropriate for campers’ viewing
    • some entries may even surface in a future employer’s web search as a part of their hiring practices

What about…Peer-to-Peer Sex Abuse?

  • 50% of sexual abuse is by adolescents
  • Consensual sex
    • There is no such thing as appropriate sexual behavior among campers
    • Parents will never agree that sex is consensual
    • What about curiosity – no sexual activity of any kind has a place at a YMCA

The Role of Your Staff in Preventing Abuse

  • How is sexual abuse prevented?
    • Through Appropriate trust and scrutiny
      • Be on alert to possible abuse
      • Don’t become comfortable with routine situations – stay vigilant for suspicious behaviors
    • Through Policies and Procedures – Be attentive to any breeches of the code of conduct
  • Why is the code of conduct important?
    • Our only defense is our rules
    • We don’t catch abusers abusing; we catch them breaking rules
  • Report red flags, incidents, “rule stretching”
  • Communicate with parents as well as kids about the NO OUTSIDE CONTACT policies – ask that parents partner with you in protecting the children
  • Parents should be encouraged to inform the camp or YMCA of inappropriate or questionable behavior by its staff whether observed in or out of camp activities
  • It is your responsibility to eliminate any opportunities for access of peers or adults to one-on-one scenarios where abuse can occur. There must be line-of-site supervision for all campers in all areas of the facility, including bathrooms

Aquatic Safety

Drowning Statistics

  • Up to 4,000 drowning deaths per year – probably more
  • 1/3 – ½ of drownings occur in guarded pools
  • 92% of survivors are found < 2 minutes
  • Nearly all children requiring CPR die or are left with severe brain injury

High Risk Factors

  • Age: drowning is the second leading cause of death for ages 1-14
  • Gender: in the US 81% of drowning victims are male
  • Location:
    • One third to one half of drownings in guarded sites are in flat-water pools
    • 51% of rescues occur in lap pools
  • Activities:
    • Running or diving into shallow water
    • Heat exhaustion and stroke
    • Heart attack
    • Breath holding (static and dynamic)
    • Special Events – parties, day camps, overnight events
  • Other:
    • African-Americans are statistically two to four times more likely to drown than any other racial or ethnic group
    • mentally or physically challenged individuals
    • overweight or intoxicated individuals
    • personal flotation devices

A proactive approach to aquatic safety is needed – it should include swim testing and scanning

  • Before an aquatic incident, we hear: “It can’t happen here”
  • After an aquatic incident we hear: “It happened so fast”
  • Guards must be proactive because it can, and does, happen!

Swim Testing should be required

  • All children should be swim tested before being allowed into the pool area
  • All children should be marked with an indicator of their swimming ability before being allowed in the water

Effective Scanning is necessary – the following should be evident

  • Guard’s mental preparation
    • Guard must expect it to happen
    • Guard’s motto: “If you don’t know, go”
  • Guard’s physical preparation
    • Guard should be alert and meeting all the standards of 10/10 scanning
      • Proper positioning – guard should be able to see all of the area of responsibility without obstructions (people or structural)
      • Zone coverage – guard should be regularly looking into the corners of zone
      • Timeliness – guard should be covering entire zone in 10 seconds or less
      • Thoroughness – guard should employ a triage system of prioritized care where the following are checked in the listed order; it is important that the priorities not get inverted
        • A body on the bottom
        • Distressed Swimmers
        • Behavior situations
    • Guard should not be fatigued – the following are some apparent signs:
      • No head movement
      • No pronounced downward swing of the head (i.e., checking at the feet of the guard)
      • Slouching in the chair or leaning against a wall or the elevated chair
      • Yawning, closing of the eyes, etc.

Off-Site Programming

Folding Tables

Large folding tables on wheels are familiar fixtures in school cafeterias. YMCA Day Camps often use such space for indoor programming, folding and moving the tables for additional space. If children are allowed to move or play near the folded tables they face serious risk of injury because of the tables’ unstable nature. If the school’s tables can not be removed from an area used by the Day Camp, they should be labeled (labels are available from The Redwoods Group), secured to a wall or to each other, and only moved when children are not present.


On-Site Construction

Many schools use vacations for various construction projects on their sites. This can result in the relocation of large items like bookshelves into the halls and rooms used by the camp. Because of the temporary nature of their location these pieces of furniture may not be secured and thus could fall or be pulled onto a child. If on-site construction stores large furniture items in camp areas they need to be moved elsewhere or properly secured.

Stranger Danger

School staff and construction workers are commonly found at these sites. This large non-YMCA presence may make staff and children comfortable with unfamiliar faces. Stranger danger awareness must be emphasized as child predators can easily infiltrate a site where there frequently are adults who are not affiliated with the Y. Staff should approach and identify all strangers in camp areas even if they look like school or construction staff.

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.


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