As a young girl, I spent many summer weeks in camps (day or sleepaway). I enjoyed the local pool or lake, arts and crafts workshops, soccer games, outings to the water slides or the science center, and a few archery classes (thankfully, my counselors deemed it better for me to stick with drama workshops given my terrible aim). When came the time for me to look for a summer job when I was fourteen, I did not hesitate for long: I would be a day camp counselor, a nod to the summers of my youth.
I was thus just a young teenager when I started working at my local day camp as a counselor in training. Seven years later, I was hired as a camp director for a camp of over 80 young campers between the ages of 5 and 12, and responsible for a dozen counselors and volunteers. In short, for me, camps are part of my DNA.
The process of becoming a camp leader and then an administrator quickly opened my eyes to the array of potential dangers in this context. A day at camp could not end without at least a few children having a new bruise, scratch or nosebleed during a dodgeball game or a trip to the park. We were dealing with children with allergies, asthma pumps and all kinds of medications to administer daily. We had the responsibility to monitor a large number of children during outings in the heart of downtown or in the middle of a forest, and also in the public transit network (have you already taken the subway with about forty children?! Quite the endeavor!). Although entertaining, camps are filled with risk. This is inevitable.
Camp administrators are in charge of protecting not only the campers (from other campers, from strangers foreigners, from physical dangers), but also the team of leaders as well as the organization. It is therefore imperative to have a plan to protect in place. There are important questions to ask yourself: what will be our screening process for our counselors? Where will registration documents and incident reports be kept? How should we respond to a child who shares with us an experience of abuse that he / she has experienced? What are the precautions to take when a child arrives at camp daily without proper food and clothing? Who will administer the prescribed medications to a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder, or insulin injections to the one diagnosed with diabetes? What signs of affection will young counselors have to avoid towards children? How are we going to discipline disobedient campers? Are our premises optimal for everyone's safety?
For all these reasons, we begin each new season of camp with a Plan to Protect® orientation and refresher training with our entire team of leaders, and we answer each of these questions.
During our training, I tell them about our protection policies (the prohibition to take pictures of children, precautions for bathroom visits, how to fill in an incident report, etc.) and I make sure to communicate them persistently over the summer to ensure that we are all on the same page, and that we are working together to create a safe environment for all.
Each individual serving as a leader in our camp follows a detailed screening process: this is a priority in order to ensure that each member of our team is reliable with children, is honest in his or her testimony and is professional in a work and ministry framework. Together we have created effective and comprehensive action plans to reduce and address the multiple risks in our camp, based on the principles of Plan to Protect®. I'm not an expert in protection, and I still learn every season of camp. This is why I'm so grateful for the assistance and knowledge of Plan to Protect® in training our camp.
Ultimately, it is hard work, but of undeniable value. Our commitment to adhering to a plan to protect makes our camp a trusted place in our community. I am amazed at the number of parents who have expressed their gratitude for our team dedicated to the protection and well-being of their children, both in words and actions. This is a real testimony of our desire to see youth flourish.
Today, I see how the years of hard work in designing our policies and procedures have benefited our camp and its growth. Before long, I realized that instructors had learned to follow protection guidelines in an instinctive way: without thinking, they knew where to find the parental consent forms, how to treat an injury and what indicators of abuse were in a child. For that reason, Plan to Protect® guidelines and principles have truly been of exceptional use in unforeseen situations in our camp.
With such a plan to protect in place, we are not paralyzed by the risks we face but can proceed with wisdom and confidence. This allows us to offer families in our community an extraordinary camp experience that will remain in the memory of young people in the years to come ... just as the summers of my youth have been for me!