Summer Safety As Pandemic Continues - 05/30/21 - Segment 2

Summer Safety As Pandemic Continues - 05/30/21 - Segment 2

Video Transcript

ROBBIE OWENS: Grab your phone or some pen and paper so you can take notes for this next story. Soon, many parents who will begin sending their children off to camps for the summer. Safety, of course, always the biggest concern. I-Team reporter Ginger Allen teaches you how to dig deeper into a camp before your children board the bus.

GINGER ALLEN: When you send your children off to camp, campfires, costumes, and canoes are the visuals that you want. Strangers, hideaways, and headlines are the images that make you worry.

KURT PODESZWA: I think it's important to let parents know that, as camp directors, we have the same feeling. Many of us are parents.

GINGER ALLEN: For 16 years, Kurt Podeszwa has been the director of Camp For All, a place for campers with all abilities. Even with his perfectly clean record, he says he gets questioned when horror stories about other camps, universities, religions, and sports reveal what could go wrong.

KURT PODESZWA: Any time anything happens anywhere, it's an effect on all camps.

GINGER ALLEN: Does it bother you when parents ask questions?

KURT PODESZWA: No. Absolutely the opposite.

GINGER ALLEN: In fact, Podeszwa encourages parents to ask questions. Specifically, these questions. What is the philosophy of the camp? How do you recruit staff? What are your screening procedures for staff? Talk about interviews, reference checks, and criminal background searches. Ask, how is staff trained on abuse prevention, bullying, and camper interaction? What policies are in place so a camper is never alone with an adult? And who is observing the staff and giving feedback throughout camp? Someone like you is not going to be offended when someone like me reaches out with all of these.

KURT PODESZWA: No, not at all. I'm assuming that that-- I'm going to block out an hour because I want to make sure that I have enough time to answer.

GINGER ALLEN: Podeszwa is also on the National Standards Commission for the American Camp Association, a seal he says you should look for on camp websites. The ACA accredits camps. The seal of approval requires screening and training by a third party, reviews every year, and site visits every three to five years.

AARON LUNDBERG: More organizations are knowing that this is a risk that they have to manage. And so we are getting a lot of organizations who are being proactive.

GINGER ALLEN: Aaron Lundberg says this is another seal you'll want to look for on websites. Lundberg is the CEO of Praesidium. The Arlington-based company accredits and trains businesses on sex abuse prevention and building a culture of safety.

AARON LUNDBERG: The majority of the abuse happens in bathrooms, showers, locker rooms. They happen in the cabins at night, during transportation in buses.

GINGER ALLEN: Lundberg recommends asking for referrals from parents you do not know. And he says, look for youth protection and staff training information on camp websites. He also says you should talk to your children before they leave. Younger children need to know their rights and to report issues. Adolescents need to know offenders may groom them, testing them to break rules and cross inappropriate boundaries.

Lastly, our experts say pay attention to the demeanor of your children when they come home and ask these three questions. What was your favorite part of camp? What was your least favorite? And do you want to go back next year?

AARON LUNDBERG: If you ask these broad-based questions and you start to get some concerns raised, then that can cause you to dig a little deeper in that area.

ROBBIE OWENS: Ginger joins us now to shed some additional insight. Ginger, one question I had, who regulates these camps in Texas?

GINGER ALLEN: OK, Robbie, so if your daughter is headed off to camp, it's the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. And that is who oversees it. This means that if you go to their website, if your child is going off to camp, this is what you want to do. Go to their site and there are several different items along the left-hand side when you look up youth camps that I believe would also be very helpful that we did not get into this story. The first thing I think you should do is see if they're licensed.

ROBBIE OWENS: Which brings up my next question. What's involved in licensing?

GINGER ALLEN: OK, so you have to have training and you have to have background checks and screening. And that's what the state checks for. And you can look for all of that on that website. The other thing you can look for is enforcement actions on that website. You just click on the button, and you can see if camp has had any type of disciplinary order taken against it. You can go one step further and you can also look to see what that is, and you can read about it. And if you don't see the camp you're looking for, you and I both, file an open records request and you can look back even further. But I also want people to go to that website for rules and regulations and even COVID protocol.

ROBBIE OWENS: A lot of great information, a lot of resources. And no, I wasn't quick enough to write it all down. Where can our viewers go to get more information?

GINGER ALLEN: You and everybody else, Robbie. We have put all of the questions we have asked and all the information we gave in that story on our website at Robbie, I want to leave you with one thought that I think is kind of interesting. And that is that even though the state regulates these entities and organizations, the experts we talked to said they still believe those are just minimal standards. In fact, this was a very scary statistic for me as a parent but just one we need to think about. Less than 5% of predators are found through background checks. So what that means is pay attention to what we said in that story and go to our website and write down all those things we said to do and do them.

ROBBIE OWENS: Our thanks to Ginger for joining us to talk about this important topic. We turn our attention now to water safety. From swimming pools to the lakes, commonsense prevention that could save a child or an adult's life next.