How Safe Are Summer Camps?

med_summercamptitle-1It’s time for summer camp! Parks Bureaus, churches, the YMCA, Boy Scouts, private companies, and scores of other groups provide day and overnight camps to kids all summer long. Whether offering general fun or highly specialized instruction, these camps can be great opportunities for kids and a welcome respite for busy parents.

But these days, all parents worry if their children will be safe from predators at camp – and not the four-legged, furry kind. Reputable and well-organized summer camps will run background checks on their employees and volunteers. But these are usually limited to checks of the state where the camp is located and, maybe, neighboring states, if the camp pays extra for a broader search. This is a good start but criminals, especially child sex predators, are notorious for moving from state to state to continue their criminal activities.

Organizations running summer camps don’t run nationwide checks because they can’t, at least not in any simple, cost-effective way. The only way would be to do a state-by-state search, which would be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

Privacy laws restrict who can look at the only viable national database, the FBI Crime Database. US Senator Chuck Shumer (D-NY) is pushing for changes in the law that would allow access to the FBI’s database for private organizations to run criminal background searches. Senator Schumer said 40 percent of convicted sex offenders applying for jobs working with children have out-of-state criminal records. For example, there are 38,000 registered sex offenders in New York state alone.

Schumer’s legislation has bipartisan sponsorship.

For now, if you are sending your kids to a summer camp, take precautions. Talk to your kids about safety and rules about not being alone with adults. Tell them to report any strange behavior they experience or witness to a trusted adult. For kids four to nine years old, a good resource is the book kNOw Tiny Secrets by Latasha Fleming, which provides a safe, age-appropriate way to teach children awareness of sexual abuse at a young age. Learn more at

Also, talk to the directors of the summer camp and let them know your concerns, especially about the lack of national background checks for their volunteers or employees. Ask about their safety rules and training.

Finally, write to your Congressional representatives and urge their support of Senator Shumer’s legislation. If we are going to protect our children, we have to be proactive and alert at all times. Better safe than sorry.

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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