Is Your Camp Ready For A Lawsuit?

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Author David Towler
Date Published October 05, 2009

How to hire better counselors and avoid potential problems.

Every year thousands of summer camps hire tens of thousands of young people to work as camp counselors and to care for children. For many of these young workers, this will be their first job or their first time being responsible for having to look after the daily needs of a group of young children for an extended time. Some of them are going to make a serious mistake that will get them fired or your camp sued.

Anyone who has ever worked at a summer camp knows how exciting, fun and rewarding camp counseling can be. It offers opportunities for personal growth, life lessons, new experiences and the building of life long friendships. Willingness and enthusiasm are no substitute for good judgment or maturity and there is no nationally recognized training course, diploma or certification for camp counseling. Most summer counseling jobs are an exercise in on-the-job learning.

Combining the care of children with young and inexperienced employees and adding the proximity of lakes and activities like archery, canoe trips or horseback riding can easily lead to serious accidents or worse. Inexperience and immaturity can lead to poor decisions that result in unintended, but dangerous or even libelous consequences. Camps must prepare for anything from missing children to staff having sex (with each other or with campers), to drug or alcohol use, potential drownings, overnight trips far from emergency assistance and much more.

Although only the most serious cases make headlines, almost every camp has been witness to some incident that resulted in a firing or near-tragedy. Some have even resulted in deaths, lawsuits and laying of criminal charges. Children have been injured or even killed by careless or inattentive counselors. There are cases where campers have been physically abused or raped by camp staff. At one camp a counselor hacked a pregnant opossum and it’s offspring to death with an axe in front of a group of 11 year olds. In another case, a counselor got angry and fired a gun near a bus load of 40 campers!

Both counselors were fired but consider the consequences that these events had on the camps and the children who witnessed them. Just imagine the damage that a child abuse or rape charge could do to your camp! One such incident can be all it takes to destroy a camp’s reputation or its livelihood.

The individuals entrusted with campers’ safety must be mature, responsible and trustworthy. There are no nationally recognized counselor qualifications and hiring practices vary from camp to camp. In today’s increasingly litigious environment camps must be extra vigilant and ensure that they do everything possible to protect their campers, their employees and their organizations. Directors can no longer afford to hire just anyone. As proof, things such as National Abuse and Harassment Prevention Guidelines and even using companies to do background and criminal record checks on applicants are now the norm. Not every situation can be predicted nor every accident prevented, but making good hiring decisions can help to minimize problems later on.

Traditional hiring methods have generally served camps fairly well, but times have changed. Camps are businesses and responsible business owners measure the skills and the quality of their applicants before hiring them. There are several new, inexpensive, easy-to-use, tools available and designed specifically for the camping/child care industry. Unfortunately, few camp directors know about them or where to obtain them. As a result even fewer camps are using them.

These instruments are reliable, legal and help measure a person’s ability to:

• work with children,
• avoid violence,
• be conscientious,
• be easy-going and cheerful,
• handle frustration well,
• have integrity,
• not seek opportunities to slack off,
• work hard,
• work well in a team,
• obey rules and regulations,

They can also measure mental abilities to identify those who will learn quickly, profit from instruction, and make good decisions when there are no ready guidelines to follow.

Organizations and institutions that work with and care for children have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Parents want to be assured that their children will be safe while away from home. Summer camps that rely upon nothing more than resumes and interviews are risking the safety of their charges, their reputations and maybe even their livelihoods.

There are many good reasons to ensure that your camp has hired the best skilled, most mature and responsible counselors that it can find. There are also cost-effective and reliable ways of ensuring that you have done so. Camps that choose not to take advantage of new ways to improve their hiring procedures leave themselves open to big problems with potentially serious legal and financial consequences. Hiring the right people the first time can pay off by saving you a lot of time, money and headaches in the long run.

Creative Organizational Design can help. Contact us for more information at info@creativeorgdesign.com


References

Teen Counselor Kills Opossum in Front of Campers - Click Here

Irate camp counselor fires gun near school bus, police say - Click Here

A Son’s Past Deeds Come Back To Bite Huckabee - Click Here

Father filing charges after camp counselor hits child - Click Here

Hockey recruits charged with sexual misconduct with minor - Click Here

Former camp counselor accused of soliciting teenage girls - Click Here

Re-printable with permission.