What to Do If Your Child Is Hurt at Summer Camp
August 21, 2017
For many children, summer camp is a well-loved tradition. In the U.S., there are more than 14,000 camps in operation. About 8,400 camps are sleep-away or overnight camps, and the rest are day camps. Every summer, more than 14 million people, adults and children, spend at least some part of their vacation at camp.
While camp gives your child an opportunity to make new friends, try new activities and enjoy the summer, it is not without its risks. Each year, some campers become ill or injured while at sleep-away camp or while attending daycare or day camp. A study published in the journal Pediatrics revealed an average of 1.15 illnesses or injuries for every 1,000 camper days. The majority of issues were illnesses, with injuries accounting for just 32 percent of events.
Although summer camp injuries are relatively rare, it still helps to be prepared. Help your child know what to do to avoid injury or illness while at camp. In the event of an injury, understand your rights, who is responsible and what types of action you can take.
Most Common Types of Injuries at Summer Camp
Some injuries are more common than others at summer camp. Several traditional summer camp activities, such as playing capture-the-flag, going horseback riding or climbing on playground equipment, can lead to serious injury if campers are not adequately supervised. Sometimes, accidents can happen even if a counselor is keeping a close eye on campers.
These are the most common summer camp maladies:
- Illnesses — Your child has a greater chance of becoming ill at camp than he or she does of becoming injured. The illness rate at camps is twice that of the injury rate. There are several reasons a child can become ill at camp. He or she might come into contact with another camper or counselor who has a cold, the flu or another infectious illness. Food poisoning is another common complaint. A camper could also have an allergic reaction while at camp.
- Cuts and scrapes — Cuts and scrapes are the second most common type of summer camp injury, after illnesses. At camp, your child is likely to handle or be exposed to many more sharp objects than he or she would be at home, from hatchets used to chop firewood to knives used in the kitchen or during arts & crafts projects. There’s also the risk of getting cut or scratched up after a fall in the woods.
- Broken or fractured bones — The third most common injury at camp is a fracture or broken bone. A camper might break a bone after tumbling off playground equipment, playing a contact sport or falling while out for a hike.
- Sprains or strains — Sprains or strains are the fourth most common type of camp-related injury. Children can sprain an ankle or strain a muscle while riding a horse, playing a sport or going for a hike.
- Burns — Bonfires are an iconic part of the camping experience. Campers who are not familiar with fire safety can get burned. While burns aren’t as common as other types of injury, they do happen.
- Rashes and bites — Mosquitoes, poison ivy, chipmunks — your camper is likely to encounter a lot more nature while at camp than he or she will back home. While nature has its perks, it also puts your child at greater risk for getting bitten by a bug or animal or for developing a rash after touching a plant.
- Sunburn — While sunburn isn’t a camp-specific injury, plenty of campers end up a variety of shades of red after spending all day outdoors without any protection.
- Heatstroke — When it’s unusually hot and humid, campers are at an increased risk for heatstroke or another type of heat-related illness. Ideally, the camp you send your child to will have a plan in place to prevent heatstroke, such as limiting outdoor activities on particularly hot and humid days and making sure campers take in plenty of water.
Injuries Can Occur at Day Camp, Too
Injuries are not limited to sleep-away summer camps. A child could be injured at daycare or a day camp, as well. Although there are no statistics that specifically look at the incidence of injury at daycare centers or day camps, there are statistics that examine the rate of injury among children overall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of nonfatal injury in children is a fall. Nearly 3 million children visit the emergency department every year after being injured in a fall.
Other types of nonfatal injury tend to vary based on a child’s age. Children under the age of 1 are most likely to be injured by suffocation. Children between 1 and 4 years of age are most likely to be injured by burns or drowning. Children under the age of 9 are most liable to be injured after being struck by an object.
How to Keep Your Child Safe at Summer Camp
The good news is that most types of injury are completely avoidable or preventable. As a parent, there are a few ways you can prepare yourself and your child to help lower the risk for injury this summer.
Research the Camp
Learning as much as possible about the camp before you send your child there is a good idea. The same rule applies to a daycare center or day camp.
One of the first things to look for in a summer camp is whether the camp is accredited or not. Camps that are accredited by the American Camp Association need to undergo a process of peer review, during which they are evaluated in up to 300 different areas, from how they hire and train staff to what sort of emergency management plans they have in place.
Accredited camps should have an appropriate camper-to-staff ratio, as well as emergency transportation available at all times. They also must have access to first aid and trained staff onsite.
Accreditation is not the same thing as licensure from the state. In Pennsylvania, all residential camps need a license. Day camps might also need to a license if they qualify as a childcare center.
Confirming that a camp is licensed and accredited is just the beginning of learning about the facility. It is also a good idea to call or email the camp to find out more about the types of activities it has children participate in and the training counselors and staff undergo, as well as about any safety policies it has in place. Here are a few questions you can ask the camp:
- Are children given safety equipment, such as helmets and life preservers, during activities?
- How many campers are in one tent?
- How many campers are there per counselor?
- What will my child be doing at camp?
- What is your policy on visits or calls home if my child is homesick?
- What does the camp do if a child becomes very ill or injured?
- Are counselors trained in first aid or CPR?
- How old are the counselors?
- Does the camp run background checks on all staff members?
- How does the camp handle visitors who aren’t related to campers? How easy it is for a visitor to get access to the campgrounds?
- Do you have parents sign waivers before dropping off their children?
- Where is the nearest hospital?
- Will campers be handling sharp objects, such as hatchets and knives?
Prepare Your Child
Choosing a camp that takes its responsibility to you and your child seriously is just one way you can protect your kid while he or she is at camp. You also want to teach your child ways to stay safe and healthy while at camp.
Part of that preparation can include reviewing basic safety rules with your child. If your child is old enough to use a pocket knife or other type of knife, make sure he or she understands never to run with the knife and that the knife isn’t a toy.
Other safety rules you can review include wearing a helmet when horseback or bike riding, not roughhousing or pushing and shoving other campers and being sure not to run around by the pool or lake.
If your child will participate in any new-to-him-or-her activities at camp, such as swimming, horseback riding or mountain climbing, make sure he or she has a general idea of what to expect. Camp is a time to try new things, but make sure your child knows it’s OK to sit out an activity that seems too intimidating or dangerous.
Also, make sure you send your child to camp with the appropriate items. A sturdy, comfortable pair of sneakers is a must for sports and other activities. If your child is going to be spending a lot of time in the woods hiking, make sure he or she has sturdy hiking boots that fit well.
Insect repellent is also a must for camp, as is sunscreen. Although camp will probably provide safety equipment and first-aid supplies, it doesn’t hurt to make sure your child has bandages, antiseptic creams and a helmet.
Allergies and Illnesses at Camp
If your child has a history of allergies or asthma, you will want to take extra precautions before sending him or her to camp, to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction or asthma attack. Talk to your child about his or her allergies and make sure he or she understands what the triggers are and how to avoid them.
If your child has food allergies, be sure to let the camp know ahead of time. It can be especially useful to send along a list of foods that are safe for your child and foods that he or she needs to avoid. Explain the severity of the allergy, as well, so the camp knows whether it will need to avoid preparing any foods with the ingredient your child is allergic to, or if it will be enough to cook a separate meal for your child during the week.
Label any inhalers, Epipens or allergy medications with your child’s name, your phone number and another emergency contact number. It is also a good idea to send along extra medication or an extra inhaler, just in case something happens to the original supply.
Illnesses might not be avoidable, but there are ways parents can significantly reduce the chance of an outbreak at a camp. If your child has any signs of illness right before it’s time to go to camp, it’s better to keep him or her home, either for the entire length of camp or until he or she feels better. Your child will not have any fun going to camp while ill. Plus, he or she is likely to spread the cold or flu to other campers.
Who Has Liability for Summer Camp Injuries?
If a child is injured at summer camp, who’s responsible? The answer depends on several factors.
The concept of premises liability puts forth that the owner of the premises — in this case, the camp — is responsible for reducing the risk of injury to anyone who steps foot on the camp grounds. Camps are also responsible for hiring people who pass background and sex offender checks.
If a camp flagrantly violates premises liability — for example, if it encourages campers to dive in shallow water or doesn’t hire enough counselors for the number of campers it has during the week — it is clearly responsible for any injuries that occur. The same goes if the camp decides to hire sex offenders or criminals and one of them harms a camper.
Those are extreme examples, and are unlikely to occur if you send your child to a licensed and accredited camp. But even at the best camps, there’s always the risk of injury. A camper could fall off a swing and break an arm, or get a nasty case of poison ivy after walking in the woods. In those instances, a thorough review of the situation would be necessary to determine who is liable for the injury.
Some camps — particularly those where children will be participating in risky activities, such as football, gymnastics or mountain climbing — usually have parents sign a release form or waiver, freeing the camp from any liability in the case of injury. If you don’t sign the waiver, you typically won’t be able to send your child to that particular camp.
There are also cases when a person could argue that a parent understood the risks involved and still decided to send a child to camp, thus absolving the camp of all responsibility — even if that parent didn’t sign a waiver.
Keep in mind that signing a waiver doesn’t completely take away your right to pursue legal action if your child becomes injured at camp. The camp can still be held responsible if the injury is a result of negligence on its part or the part of an employee. For example, if a camp counselor insists on having campers run sprints on a 98-degree day — even if the children are sweating and demonstrating signs of heat exhaustion — and a camper ends up with heatstroke, you could argue that the heatstroke is due to negligence on the part of the counselor.
What to Do If Your Child Is Injured
If your child is injured while at sleep-away camp or a day camp, find out what your legal rights are. You may be able to file a claim for damages. To discuss your case with an attorney and to learn more about your options, contact Katherman, Briggs & Greenberg LLP for a free consultation today.