ST. LOUIS – The child who drowned at his summer camp in July has exposed a loophole in the law. According to caregivers, summer camps can sometimes make their own rules, putting your child at risk.
Two childcare providers at the Apple of Your Eye Learning Center on Tesson Ferry said they are alarmed by what they’ve seen with other summer camps. They said they want to help parents ask the right questions.
The regulators with the State of Missouri Office of Childcare were at the center during their regular inspections. Inspection records for the center can be viewed online to see if the facility is compliant with teacher-to-child ratios, background checks, and many other safety requirements.
The owner of Apple of Your Eye Learning Center, Elizabeth Ghiassi said pop-up summer camps do not face the same regulation.
“They really have to have nothing,” said Ghiassi. “It does cost more money to be state regulated for sure because you have a lot more things they want you to accomplish. But at the end of the day, we’re taking care of a human life.”
Ghiassi said she was horrified to see 35 children from a different summer program walking along Tesson Ferry with only two adults.
“I could not take 35 children out and walk them down a busy road,” said Ghiassi. “It just wouldn’t happen.”
She said she’d get closed down if she did that.
Lisa Coulter, who’s worked with Ghiassi for decades, remembers another incident Ghiassi recently witnessed.
“Oh my gosh, we’re sitting in here and 91 children just got off the bus with two counselors,” said Coulter. “I said, ‘Excuse me?”’
Ghiassi said she reported what she saw to regulators.
“I didn’t get anywhere because the State says they don’t regulate pop-up summer camps,” she said.
FOX 2 reported about the lack of summer camp regulations after the July 20 drowning of TJ Mister at his St. Louis County summer camp.
County officials said they cannot answer FOX 2’s questions about staffing and training until the completion of the police investigation. The child care inspection records are not listed because the incident occurred at an unregulated summer camp.
“I’m not sure parents fully understand what goes on in some of the summer camps,” said Ghiassi. “There are some awesome ones out there, don’t get me wrong, but they need to ask questions.”
Ghiassi said she wrote up the following parent checklist of 12 things she said parents should check and ask about before enrolling their child in an unregulated summer camp.
Here are Ghiassi’s tips for families who are looking for summer camp options:
1. Make sure any summer camp program is licensed through the state of Missouri – these licenses are always displayed for public viewing
2. Check to make sure all camp counselors are 18 years or older
3. Check to make sure background checks and fingerprints have been completed on all camp counselors
4. Check to make sure how many counselors are CPR trained and certified
5. Start early by looking …. Many programs fill fast / allow yourself time to check programs so you are not rushed
6. Check to make sure the summer camp your choose is age appropriate for your child! Big difference in a camp geared to 5/6 vs 11/12 make sure the activities planned are age appropriate
7. Request a list of the daily activity planned, so you know exactly what they will be doing
8. Always keep in mind that these summer camps don’t know your child unless it is a child care center they attend. They are not aware of their strengths and weaknesses / you must tell them / parents should never assume anything
9. If outside field trips are planned / what is the transportation used / seatbelts/walking / personal vehicles
10. Ask what the child ratio is to counselors while in the building, and what the child ratio is to counselors while out of the building outside ratio should always be lower
11. It is ultimately the responsibility of the parent as no one knows their child better / do they wander/do they have good listening ears / this should go into your decision making
12. We always say if it can be done by a child / it will be done …. Never underestimate a child
She said she encouraged parents to search for a program that fits their needs.