Excerpted from azcentral.com By Lauren Castle
In Arizona, child-care centers and many day camps must do criminal background checks on staff. But there is no such requirement for overnight camps.
Arizona is one of 18 states that do not require overnight camps to perform criminal background checks on staff and volunteers.
Some overnight camp organizers in Arizona take it upon themselves to conduct criminal checks of the adults who will be supervising children. But not all do.
Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, said background checks are important because overnight camp employees are mentoring and taking care of children.
Are background checks important?
In 1993, John Cooley, a Boy Scout rifle instructor at an Arizona camp for 15 years, was indicted on 27 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor after sexually explicit books and photos of children were found inside his trailer.
He was convicted of two counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor.
Since 2003, volunteers who participate with the Boy Scouts of America must go through a national criminal background check, which is one layer of the organization’s process to screen adult leaders, a spokesperson told The Arizona Republic.
“Nothing is more important than the safety and protection of children in our Scouting programs — it is our top priority,” said Andy Price, the scout executive and CEO of the Grand Canyon Council of the Boy Scouts of America. “Many years ago, we adopted some of the strongest barriers to child abuse that will be found in any youth-serving organization, and we take the responsibility to uphold those barriers seriously.”
Both Girl Scouts councils in Arizona also perform criminal background checks on all volunteers and camp staff.
The Arizona Girl Scouts camps and more than a dozen other camps in Arizona are accredited by the American Camp Association. That group’s accreditation process requires that these camps conduct criminal background checks on all staff and volunteers that have access to children.
In addition to conducting criminal background checks, the American Camp Association has a list of several standards that camps must follow in order to be accredited.
The standards make safety a priority and go over a variety of areas including water safety, medication procedures and plans for emergency medical transportation.
Rosenberg said accreditation helps because licensing varies from state to state.
There are two Arizona YMCA overnight summer camps accredited with the association, Triangle Y Ranch and Camp Sky Y.
Valley of the Sun YMCA runs Camp Sky Y. Its executive director Jackie Gizzi said the organization works to ensure all children are physically and emotionally safe while in its care.
Camps that aren’t accredited may still conduct background checks on their own, but parents would need to check with each individual camp to find out.
Tips on finding a safe camp
Rosenberg said families should ask camps questions regarding their policies to ensure that safety will be a priority.
For example, the Grand Canyon Council of the Boy Scouts of America always requires two or more adult leaders to be present with youth during scouting activities.
“A parent can get a good idea of how professional a camp is by asking those type of questions,” he said.
Some questions families can ask:
• How are staff supervised?
• Can you explain how staff are trained?
• How do you ensure staff are working together?
• What is the supervision policy to minimize the times one staff member is left alone with a camper?
• What is camp’s policy for medication and storage?
• Do you conduct criminal background checks on all adults involved in the camp?
Camps that do background checks
According to the American Camps Association’s website, there are 15 overnight camps in Arizona that are accredited:
• Maripai (Girl Scouts), Prescott.
• Arizona Camp Sunrise and Sidekicks, Payson.
• YMCA Camp Sky Y, Prescott.
• Chapel Rock Camp, Prescott.
• YMCA Triangle Y Ranch, Oracle.
• James 4-H Camp, Prescott Valley.
• Lions Camp Tatiyee, Lakeside.
• Shadow Rim Ranch (Girl Scouts), Payson.
• Willow Springs Program Saguaro Camp (Girl Scouts), Payson.
• Saguaro Camp Cedarbrook, Prescott.
• Friendly Pines, Prescott.
• Camp Rainbow, Prescott.
• Mingus Mountain Camp, Prescott Valley.
• Camp Ponderosa, Herber.
• Camp Daisy and Harry Stein, Prescott.
• The Grand Canyon Council of the Boy Scouts of America offers several overnight camps, all which perform criminal background checks on staff and volunteers: https://www.grandcanyonbsa.org/camping.
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