Overnight stays at camp facilities or at your branches are a terrific way to provide children with experiences that they cannot otherwise obtain. However, these occasions also present unique risks and programming challenges that are not contemplated within the regular structure of your operations. Best practices would use staff members who are fully rested for such activities, but some may have worked up to a full day before the start of the evening activities. Children may choose to test boundaries because of the lack of direct parental guidance or because of unfamiliarity with the facility. Protocols and procedures must address the extra facility management, swimming, and abuse prevention challenges that have been introduced. The following guidelines will help minimize risks to you and to the children you serve.
- Obtain signed permission forms that employ appropriate waivers or informed consent agreements.
- Lock all areas of the facility that are not actively utilized. Establish firm, specific rules concerning permissible locations and behavior, especially with regard to outdoor activities…closely monitor and stringently enforce your rules.
- Increase your staff-to-student ratio. Some of the activities may be non-traditional. Add to that eager, excited children and potentially tired staff…increased vigilance is necessary.
- Ensure that all required medications are on-site, secured, and properly documented. Many children take medicine in the evening or morning, …dispensing and/or overseeing the taking of these medications is normally not part of YMCA staff duties, so be carefully prepared.
- Be extremely cautious with campfire or cooking programs, if used at all. Severe injuries have occurred when children have been cooking dinner, roasting marshmallows, or having a program involving fire. Only staff should touch the fire or perform cooking duties during special events.
Several aquatic deaths at YMCA’s were during special programming. Ensure that:
- adequate lifeguarding staff is present…a 1:25 lifeguard ratio is inadequate for special events
- accompanying teachers, counselors, and/or parents are enlisted as extra-eyes-on-deck…remember that they are not included in the lifeguard-to-swimmer ratio.
- all participants are swim-tested and marked and protected…only qualified swimmers may enter deep water
Child abuse incidents are common during overnight programs…sneaking out of authorized areas, climbing into one another’s sleeping bags, having sexual contact while showering, etc. Remember to:
- maintain adequate after-bedtime staffing…at least half the staff should be actively on duty at all times…don’t be lulled into thinking nothing can happen when all is apparently quiet
- physically separate girls from boys…e.g., separate rooms or cabins
- provide appropriate age segregation when dealing with groups that have age disparity
- manage behavioral relationships…separate larger, more aggressive, more aware children
- maintain a staff presence during all group showering, changing, and bathroom activities
- prevent staff from being alone with children, especially during changing, bathroom, or sleeping activities…allegations and occurrences of inappropriate touching frequently occur in these situations, especially when staff and children sleep in close proximity
Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.