When sending a child to camp for the first time, it is normal for family members to be nervous about what awaits them.  These concerns might run the gamut from wondering how kids are kept safe as they participate in the various programs at camp to worrying about the camp’s practices for handling children’s behavior.  Luckily, there is a tool that exists for parents in determining whether the camp chosen for their child follows safe practices.  This is the American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation.  One can find a list of accredited camps on the American Camp Association website.  A camp’s status as an ACA Accredited camp is also likely listed in any accredited camp’s literature, with a sign posted prominently on a central camp building.  All of the camps at Farm & Wilderness are accredited by the ACA.

The ACA has existed for over 100 years, supporting camping and camps in the United States.  Today, the organization serves many purposes including offering resources and educational opportunities to camp directors and staff.  It lobbies on issues of concern to camps.  And, in its local branches, ACA staff can guide and advise families looking for a camp, with its descriptive lists of area camp programs.

Susan Webb, one of the founders of Farm & Wilderness, was an early promoter of the organization.  She and her husband, Ken, were educators who believed that a summer of farming and hands-on experience in the wilderness, could serve as a valuable educational opportunity for youth.  In her involvement with the fledgling ACA, she also saw the creation of standards as a way to legitimize summer camp in the educational realm as well as a way to encourage the publics’ endorsement of the endeavor.

Today, in order to earn the accredited status, a camp must demonstrate through its policies and practices comply with up to 300 health and safety standards.  An assigned team of trained visitors, most of whom have experience in the camping field, initially read through all of the documents and reports produced by a camp about its operating policy and practices. The ACA looks at how a camp defines and advertises its mission and goals, as well as how it evaluates its intended outcomes. It investigates whether a camp is adequately insured, as well as its emergency procedures and protocols. The ratios of counselors to campers are assessed, as well as methods of staff supervision. Evaluators look for written procedures around food preparation and clean-up, health and wellness practices, and transportation guidelines. They also examine safety protocol for specific potentially higher-risk camp activities, such as swimming, boating, rock climbing, and overnight wilderness trips. They want to see not only that these guidelines exist, but how staff are trained to use them. The standards that the ACA uses to evaluate camps are dynamic and changing, many in response to current concerns.

Following a camp’s paperwork evaluation, the evaluation team spends a day visiting the camp being accredited. Guided by the camp director, the visitors share a meal with the camp and view meal clean-up. They watch activity sessions, often interviewing staff leaders. They visit the camp health center and speak with the nurse. They look for on-the-ground evidence of the stated protocols being used.  They also look for the condition of the facilities, equipment and vehicles, and general cleanliness of the site.

At Farm & Wilderness, one of our camps is accredited each year. While enabling us to focus on the safe operation of a single camp in depth, it also allows us to keep current on updated regulations, in order to implement changes at all of our camps. Saltash Mountain Camp is the F&W camp being accredited this year, and Jeff Bounds, the Saltash director, and myself, the program director are busy examining procedures and collecting all of the documents required for the evaluation.

While being accredited by the ACA does not indicate anything about the quality or character of a camp program, it does attest to it following safe practices.  For camp operators, the insights gained from our evaluators can be instructive. For families entrusting their children to a program, it is reassuring to know that someone is seeking answers for questions about the camp that you maybe didn’t even know to ask.  This may allow you to feel a little more comfortable leaving your child in someone else’s care. You can rest assured that they will have a fun and SAFE summer.





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