Apr11MonApril 11, 2016
At Muskoka Woods, ensuring children have fun safely is serious business.
Safety is the organization’s first customer service standard, said Jackie Carmichael, managing director of programs for Muskoka Woods. She would know – she first came to Muskoka Woods as a camper when she was 9. She’s just one of many who have benefited from the programs at the camp that’s been running for more than 35 years. Each year, around 5,000 children and youth attend overnight summer camp at the facility on Lake Rosseau in central Ontario. Hundreds more participate in day camps Muskoka Woods runs in the Greater Toronto Area. Various organizations, including schools and churches, use the facilities for retreats in the off-season.
Staff have always prioritized guests’ safety, Carmichael said. Information about some of their policies, like staff-to-guest ratios in cabins, is posted on the organization’s website. All staff and volunteers have criminal record checks; staff and guests are not alone together; clear policies describe how staff can use personal devices to communicate with guests. Staff are not allowed to send guests text messages, or use their personal devices to take and/or store photographs of guests. The same rules apply for how adult staff interact with staff who are minors.
A lot of these policies come from common sense, said Carmichael. The organization also draws on years of experience and the expertise of alumni who work in the legal profession. Training for summer staff includes a session with a judge explaining the legal ramifications of abuse allegations.
“We can’t rely on good intentions, even though we’d like to,” said Carmichael, noting the importance of clear abuse prevention and protection policies.
That’s why, even though Muskoka Woods has been protecting children for years, the organization reached out to Plan to Protect®. “We didn’t want to rest on what we thought was good or what we thought we knew,” Carmichael said. Because Plan to Protect® trains organizations across Canada about how to prevent abuse, Muskoka Woods knew this consulting company was trustworthy. “We wanted to be validated by a company who is known and recognized in terms of what guest protection, child protection looks like.”
It was a natural fit. Plan to Protect® is “driven by care of children, and that’s really important for us,” said Carmichael.
The relationship with Plan to Protect® started with a thorough analysis of company policies and continues with monthly coaching calls. Muskoka Woods purchased the Going the Distance membership package, the most comprehensive one Plan to Protect® offers. It includes one-on-one coaching, help for keeping policies up-to-date and training for staff so they can teach others about prevention methods.
Even established organizations can always strengthen their protection methods. Plan to Protect® clarified rules about reporting suspected abuse and is advising Muskoka Woods about staff rooming policies so staff who don’t stay in guest cabins are also grouped according to age to reduce the chances of bullying, said Carmichael.
The organizations will be working together in the future. “Our kids deserve the best,” said Carmichael. Pursuing protection is another way of pursing excellence. “(We) want to be at the top of our field in terms of whatever’s best in Canada.”