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If Only They Had Known . . . Seven Timely Reminders for Staff Training
Last-minute registrations and staff agreements are coming in. Food and T-shirts have been ordered. Staff manual revisions are nearly complete. Staff orientation — pre-camp training — is nearly upon you. How can you ever cover all you want (and need) to cover in those few precious days?
1. Teasing and Hazing.
A parent wrote to a camp director, and then to ACA when the director failed to respond, about the environment of teasing and hazing that his child experienced at camp. Not only were other campers “merciless,” the counselors did nothing to stop this behavior and sometimes even participated in it themselves.
Be sure staff have a clear understanding of your program goals and outcomes — the positive changes you want to see in each camper at the end of the session. You should have clear discussions about the specific staff behaviors that will encourage and enhance those outcomes, as well as the specific staff behaviors that will undermine the accomplishment of those outcomes. Counselors who fail to see and stop camper and staff behaviors that undermine others are doing a disservice to children, themselves, your broader constituency, and the accomplishment of your camp’s reason for being. The hard things for a young staff member to find are “the line,” and the courage to stop themselves or others when that line is crossed. Make this a topic of staff training discussion. See standards PD-6, HR-15, 16, 19, and 20.
2. Emergency procedures.
A counselor woke in the middle of the night and the cabin was on fire. She was able to get the children out of the cabin safely, but wasn’t sure what do then except scream for help. She didn’t know where to go, who should be notified first, who could help. Darkness added to the confusion.
Make sure all staff know the routines and the procedures for emergencies — where to go, who is in charge, communication plans, how to account for campers, who should treat injuries, how to use universal precautions, and where rescue equipment is available. How will staff know the safety concerns unique to your camp? See ACA standards OM-9, 10, 14 and 17.
3. Specific needs of campers or parent requests.
The parent said the child was not to swim. The helpful waterfront counselor, not wanting the child to be left out, was resourceful and found a bathing suit in the lost and found box for the girl. The girl was too frightened on her first day of camp to refuse. Her body was later pulled from the bottom of the lake.
How will staff get information on parent requests, diet, allergies, medication, rest requirements, activity restrictions, behavioral concerns? Program, kitchen, counseling and health care staff may each have a “need to know” certain types of restrictions, precautions, procedures for handling, and other safety concerns. How will you know the appropriate people have been informed? See ACA standards HW-9 and PD-8.
4. Supervision guidelines and behavior management.
The counselor needed help disciplining a difficult child. The unit leader ignored the problem. Charges of physical and sexual abuse were ultimately brought against the counselor who relied on his own experiences to control the child.
Will your staff know how and where to get additional help? What training will you give supervisors? Will your staff and supervisors know where they must be and what to look or listen for when they are “on duty?” Will they know not only the general rules but the appropriate methods to enforce them? Do staff know when more than one staff person must be present? All staff must know appropriate methods for relating to campers and what behaviors are inappropriate — with campers and other staff. See ACA standards HR-9 – 20.
5. Activity leadership.
Two visitors to camp come upon a group of campers at the rifle range, but no counselor is in sight. The campers indicate they know what to do and the staff member should be there shortly. As they talk, a camper turns to say something and unintentionally points his loaded gun at the visitors.
Activity skills are important, but more important are the skills staff must have in managing groups, recognizing hazards and inappropriate behavior, enforcing safety regulations and knowing how to handle an emergency. How is access to areas or equipment restricted? How will you verify staff have the skills their applications say they have? Do supervisors observe staff to be sure they know how to teach activities — not just do them? How will they learn about the weather, terrain, animals and plants that may affect them and their campers? Have staff reviewed applicable operating procedures, even if this isn’t the year the procedures have been revised for a standards visit? See ACA standards PD-12 – 17.
6. Safety orientations.
On a field trip to the museum in town, a camper goes to the bathroom and loses track of her group. The group returns to camp, not knowing a child is missing. A short time later, the parent calls, angry and upset because the child called home and had her mother come get her.
Regardless of the activity or age of campers, everyone needs to know the rules, safety signals, boundaries and/or hazards to avoid, equipment procedures and precautions, and what to do if . . . . While safety orientations for wilderness trips will be much more extensive than those for a field trip, both are critical. How can you verify that safety orientations have been done? See ACA standards PD-18, PA-5, 13 & 14, PC-13, PH-9, *PT-1, 17 & 18.
The repair request for the motor on the rescue boat was sitting on the director’s desk when a canoe capsized in a sudden storm. Although the campers and staff managed to get themselves to the shore, a camper died of hypothermia from the long immersion in the cold water.
Who is responsible for safety checks of equipment prior to each use? How will your staff recognize worn or unsafe equipment? What is the system for reporting? Who is in charge of replacement and record keeping? How will you train them to match equipment with the size and abilities of campers? What about storage and security of equipment — how will camper access be restricted when appropriate? What are the rules for staff use? See ACA standards PD-4 & 17, PA-11, 12 & 28, PC-6 & 7, PH-4, and PT-14.
While some of these issues may seem elementary or common sense, and you are tempted to skim over some things because you are pressed for time, imagine yourself explaining to a parent why your staff wasn’t told that procedure. Evaluate what your training would look like in the eyes of the parents of an injured child.
For camp to give kids a world of good, we must have well-trained counselors caring for campers in a well-supervised, positive environment.
Originally published in the 2001 Spring issue of The CampLine.