Approximately 10 million children head off to summer camp in the U.S. Most of these young campers will return home with wonderful memories of new friends and fun-filled days. Some will return home with devastating memories that will last a lifetime - memories of being sexually or physically abused. Following are some examples:
- NBC-2 reported July 19, 2017, on a Naples camp counselor who was accused of slapping a child in the face. The male child had disabilities. This counselor was fired by the River Park Day Camp following her arrest. Local police said the woman hit a boy so hard it caused a bloody nose. Witnesses confirmed that the female counselor was the aggressor and claimed she hit the child as he was trying to get away. The city said she was a new employee who passed the required background checks. The woman, who has since bonded out of jail, faces child abuse charges and is due in court in August.
- White Chapel Church of God and Warner Christian Academy in Orange County, Florida are facing a long list of lawsuits alleging they failed to perform a "reasonable background check" on a youth pastor and camp counselor. He is now serving more than 200 years in prison over child pornography and related charges that involve some of the children he “counseled” during summer camp at the church, according to WFTV9.
How are summer camps regulated?
Florida summer camps are regulated by the Florida Department of Children and Families (FDCFS). Under Florida law, the camps are not required to be licensed. However, all summer camp personnel do have to be screened and fingerprinted. Screening requires an employment history check and statewide criminal checks through FDLE. (FDLE is the central repository of criminal history information for the State of Florida.) A check of the National Sex Offender public website is required, and local law enforcement checks may also be completed.
Noncompliance with background screening requirements carries few penalties.
WFTV9 investigators found that the FDCFS reported on 18 Florida camp facilities being non-compliant with background screening requirements during a random audit in March 2016. When they receive a complaint regarding background screening compliance at a summer camp, a licensing counselor from the region visits the camp and provides technical assistance to get the summer camp back into compliance.
Under Florida SS 63.0422 and 790.335, the court may terminate the operation of a summer camp providing care for children when such camp has willfully and knowingly refused to comply with the screening requirements for personnel or has refused to terminate the employment of personnel found to be in noncompliance with the requirements for good moral character.
Who can be held liable in a summer camp child abuse case?
A sponsoring entity that has been found negligent in protecting a child victim can be held liable for monetary damages. There must be a relationship between the abuser and the entity which is usually employed, and the entity “knew or should have known” there was a potential for abuse.
Accreditation holds camps to a standard.
Accreditation means that camps meet industry-accepted and government-recognized standards. The accreditation organization visits camps and confirms compliance with standards. If a camp is found to be out of compliance, it can lose its accreditation. The American Camp Association (ACA) accredits all types of camps, and for a camp to be accredited, it must meet up to 300 national standards for health and safety developed by experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross and other youth service agencies.
Know what to do if you suspect abuse
Dr. Jackie Humans in Preventing Sexual Abuse at Summer Camp recommends:
- Support your child. Research shows that the single most important factor in a child's doing well after being abused is the steady emotional support of his/her parents.
- Explain that abuse is never, ever their fault.
- Make sure they know you believe them. Some children never report sexual abuse because they fear they won't be believed, especially when the abuser is known and trusted by the family. Tell your child you believe him/her; children rarely lie about having been sexually abused.
- Praise them for sharing. After your child has finished telling you what happened, praise him/her for confiding in you. Then immediately notify the local authorities or call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453)
Fort Myers Child Injury Lawyer, Randall Spivey recommends, “If your child or a loved one’s child has been the victim of abuse at a summer camp or any facility that cares for children, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A. to determine your rights. There are no fees or costs until there is a monetary recovery for you.”
Fort Myers Child Injury Lawyer, Randall L. Spivey is a Board Certified Trial Attorney – the highest recognition for competence bestowed by the Florida Bar and a distinction earned by just one (1%) percent of Florida attorneys. He has handled over 2,000 personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout Florida. For a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights, contact the Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A., in Lee County at 239.337.7483 or toll-free at 1.888.477.4839, or by email to Randall@SpiveyLaw.com. Visit SpiveyLaw.com for more information. You can contact Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A.in Charlotte County at 941.764.7748, and in Collier County at 239.793.7748.