After a harsh winter, it may be hard for some families to believe it's already time to make summer camp plans.
This just might be the year you decide to splurge on the best for your child, and BBB of Upstate New York wants parents to look beyond fancy websites or dreams-come-true photos on slick marketing materials.
When searching for a summer camp parents need to know safety, health and satisfaction for children are not just promises, but a proven track record before investing in your child's summer camp experience.
"It could be a camp in your neighborhood or a special adventure, but either way your child's summer camp experience should be enriching, safe and fun," said Warren Clark, president of Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. "Every parent should feel confident their camp has invested in staff training with the equipment and licensing needed to meet New York state health and safety regulations."
Regulations for day and overnight camps may be different, but either must put your child's well-being first. When choosing a camp, parents need to use the same care and common sense they would use in evaluating a day care program. BBB recommends searching for a camp that provides activities interesting and appropriate for each child's age and skill level.
Parents should take time to also visit camps to inspect facilities, ask about staff training and experience, and to find out how the camp handles medical emergencies. If the child is staying overnight, parents should be sure to look at cabins, showers and other facilities children will be using.
Some camps, such as those organized around a particular sport, are highly structured and stress development of specific skills. Others are more flexible and give campers the opportunity to choose some of their activities. Your child's interest and personality should be your guide in choosing an appropriate program. Parents should ask how long a camp has been in business and check with parents of past and returning students.
BBB offers the following advice for parents searching for the right camp for their child:
•Visit the camp before submitting any payment to check the location and recreational facilities. If the camp is a distance away, ask about parent recommendations and conduct a full online search for images and information about the camp, including checking out its BBB business review. Go to www.bbb.org to find a business review on an individual business. If you can't find one, ask BBB to develop one for you.
•Ask about safety procedures, particularly for water activities, archery and out-of-camp trips. Assess the quality and commitment of the staff.
•Ask about fees and payment deadlines. Is your deposit refundable? Are there extra charges for any activities? Are meals and transportation offered?
Other questions to ask:
•What is the camper return rate? The counselor return rate? What is the camp director's background? How is the staff trained? Are criminal checks made for employees and volunteers? What is the ratio of campers to staff members?
•Are medical facilities adequate? Is a nurse or doctor on site? What are the procedures for transporting injured or sick children to medical facilities? Are those facilities nearby?
What are the safety rules and how are they enforced? Does the camp have appropriate insurance coverage?
•Are family visits or other communications with campers allowed? How is homesickness handled?
•Are references from parents of repeat campers available? Ask the parents about their child's experience and why they recommend the camp.
Finally, look for camps that are certified by the American Camp Association. ACA-accredited camps have met up to 300 nationally recognized standards.
For scam alerts, tips and other information "you can trust," visit www.bbb.org.
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