April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Sending Your Children to Camp? Read This First!

It’s that time of year again. School is letting out, children are looking forward to their last tests, bringing home their unused supplies, and looking ahead to a summer of recreation and fun. Parents are running around doing their last camp errands, comparing lists with friends and making sure their children are ready for camp. Summer camps are preparing orientation, forming bunk lists and generally organizing for the summer program. With all these busy preparations and anticipation for the upcoming summer, it’s easy to forget about some important considerations. We at project S.A.R.A.H. ask everyone to stop and take a moment to think about camp safety.

Camp is an incredible experience for children. It’s a break from the regimented, highly structured school year. Whether at sleepaway or day camp, children can form new friendships and lasting bonds; they can learn teamwork, have new life experiences, learn new skills, and enjoy themselves outdoors. However, as fun and exciting as camp can be, there are dangers associated with being in camp as well. At Project S.A.R.A.H. we understand that during the summer some campers get involved in inappropriate relationships, are “groomed” by predators and even engage in sexual behavior. In response to this growing concern, Project S.A.R.A.H. added day-camp safety presentations for camp staff and small-group parent-training programs to its extensive array of community-education programs.

Camp trainings are integrated within the camp’s staff orientation and are provided by Project S.A.R.A.H.’s licensed therapists. To prepare them for their role as caregivers over the summer, we educate camp staff about the basic definitions of abuse and help them recognize signs of abuse in their campers. We train counselors to pass along their concerns to their division head, head counselor or camp director. We teach them that, despite their age, they bear great responsibility for keeping their campers safe because they may be the first to notice a safety concern as they work with the child one-on-one on a daily basis. We teach them how to respond if they hear a disclosure about abuse from a child, and we encourage open discussion about their feelings on the subject and sharing past experiences they’ve had. In recent years we have added an emphasis on staff behavioral guidelines. We talk to the staff about how to check in with themselves to be self-aware of their own feelings on a daily basis and how to use their stress-management skills to deal with the daily stress of their job in a healthy way. To help them avoid unfounded allegations of abuse we stress the importance of always interacting with campers in a way that can be easily understood by anyone passing by their bunk. This protects both them and the children. We suggest they never be alone with a camper, always make sure they and their campers are in view of others even when having a private conversation with a camper, and to maintain personal boundaries in both speech and touch. We encourage staff to pay attention to both their own behaviors and those of their fellow staff members. We are proud to present this training to day-camp staff in our area on an annual basis to promote discussion and awareness and create a safer camp environment for campers and counselors alike.

In addition to training camp staff, local community members host “fireside chats” in their homes by inviting their friends and neighbors to an interactive discussion about child safety with a Project S.A.R.A.H. therapist. We offer guidelines, information and answer the complex questions parents have in a non-judgmental, safe and comfortable environment. We help parents gain awareness about these issues and learn the language they need to talk to their children about personal safety. At the end of the evening, parents become aware of symptoms and signs of abuse in their children and explore how they would respond if their child discloses to them that they were abused. Our goal is to help parents feel well-equipped to protect their children and feel confident in how they would respond to learning that their child is in distress. We acknowledge that, as parents, unfortunately we can’t prevent all bad things from happening to them and we can’t prevent abuse. What we can do is work diligently in providing education and prevention programs that greatly reduce the chances of abuse from occurring in their camp. It can also make the camps’ and parents’ response more effective in reducing the lasting impact of an incident on a child’s wellbeing.

Project S.A.R.A.H. has two requests at the beginning of this camp season. First, we ask you as parents, camp counselors and community members to stop and take this into consideration this weekend. Before we parents drop our children off at the camp bus stop, pack up their sunscreen and bathing suit for their first day and finish checking off the last-minute items of their shopping lists, ask ourselves, “Have I addressed camp safety with my child?” Talk to your children about personal safety and boundaries. (Do this even if they roll their eyes at you and even if they tell you they do it every year!) If you need help having that conversation, reach out to us. Remember to check in with them regularly throughout the summer and pay attention to their relationships, especially with older children and adults. Second, camp directors should ensure that they and their staff are trained and know how to respond to a disclosure of abuse by developing and distributing clear policies that everyone in camp—campers, counselors and staff—are aware of. Share those policies with parents and encourage them to have safety discussions with their children.

We hope you enjoy your summer and, as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Project S.A.R.A.H. team at (973) 777-7638 or [email protected] with any concerns or questions. We’re here to help keep our community safe all summer long.

By Shani Hochstadter, LAC


Shani Hochstadter, LAC, is a clinician at Jewish Family Service and Children’s Center of Clifton-Passaic. Shani is a Project S.A.R.A.H. team member and facilitates the women’s support group for women in challenging relationships.

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