"We could have had supports in place if we knew..."
So many camps have found themselves in a position of questioning what to do when a camper presents with an issue that was not previously known to the camp, even though it was previously known to the camper's family. "The parent never told us that _____ was living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, " or, "We could have had supports in place if we knew that ______ had panic attacks when she was asked to _______ during an activity with other campers."
Especially since the pandemic, parents are longing for their children to have "normal" and rich camp experiences. Many parents will not volunteer information that they perceive may make their child ineligible for camp. But we need the information in order to make the experience the best it can be. So, how do directors work with that? The first step is to ask the questions so that you can glean as much information as possible. If you don't ask, then parents aren't pushed to tell.
Start by looking at the questions regarding mental and emotional health that are on your health form. Are they the standard ACA Health Form questions? Have you changed, added, or subtracted anything? I believe it is best to add questions based on your specific camp. Each of the wider questions can have sub-questions beneath it. One question on the ACA Health Form is: "Ever been treated for emotional or behavioral difficulties or an eating disorder?" Although there is a chance to write more details below the question, it may be helpful to add other questions that get the parent thinking about the camp milieu specifically. For example, asking something such as: "What are the ways in which you think your child's above mentioned emotional or behavioral difficulty(ies) might manifest at camp, where we are:
[name components of your camp that might affect a child (structured or unstructured time, large groups, loud spaces)]...
...Followed by a question for parents that gets at what would be helpful for camp staff to know and do with their child in the given situations mentioned above.
While you do not want to invite every single parent to write an entire page on how your staff should cater only to their child, you do need to solicit information about certain campers. Many parents will end up writing "N/A," or something that your staff already do, such as "make sure my child eats something at each meal." Other parents will provide you and your staff with some key information that you'll be glad you asked for!
I look forward to continuing to write future posts going more in depth on this topic. Feel free to email questions to: email@example.com.
Nick Teich, PhD, LCSW, consults with camps on issues of camper and staff mental health, transgender inclusion, and much more. Find more info at www.consultforcamp.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.