INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Thousands of Hoosier children attend camps every year, but when it comes to keeping kids safe, there are some surprising holes in the state laws.
Most day and summer camps are fun and educational, but a few examples in recent years have proved tragic.
Inside the walls of Creekside Middle School in Carmel, a then 8-year-old girl claims she was bullied and sexually assaulted by another child during summer camp.
“She’s been affected immensely by the sexual trauma,” said the victim’s mother, who we are not identifying to ensure her daughter’s confidentiality.
The mother believes the camp, hosted by Camel-Clay Parks and Recreation in 2017, allowed one of her daughter’s fellow campers to repeatedly force the young victim into a bathroom to take part in various lewd behaviors.
“She took down her pants, the girl, and also pulled my daughter’s pants down and touched her inappropriately,” said the mother.
In response, the family filed a lawsuit, which is still ongoing against the city of Carmel, alleging they failed to provide proper supervision and training to employees.
“Nobody was watching and nobody was protecting her,” said that mother. “They neglected my daughter.”
In a different high-profile case from 2017, Camp DASH, a dietary research project at Purdue, closed after complaints from campers of fights, bullying, and sexual assaults.
That also prompted lawsuits against the university asserting the camp was understaffed and counselors were poorly trained.
“I just want to warn parents, even though you think your kids are safe, they’re not always,” reiterated the Carmel victim’s mother.
The Indiana State Department of Health has dozens of pages of regulations to ensure youth camps are safe. Those include everything from construction and maintenance guidelines, to rules about first aid kits and the number of toilets needed.
The state though does not require all camps to be licensed or conduct criminal background checks for their staff.
“Many states do require background checks, and we highly recommend the state of Indiana require criminal background checks,” said Tom Rosenberg with the American Camp Association.
Rosenberg says the American Camp Association provides voluntary accreditation to camps to increase their standards beyond state laws, which can vary significantly from state to state.
While the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration licenses and inspects child care facilities, summer camps are different.
The vast majority operate fewer than 90 days a year, allowing them a licensing exemption.
That’s why Rosenberg insists parents do their homework and ask key questions before enrolling their kids into camp.
“Start by asking, ‘Is the camp accredited?’ Then start asking, ‘How do you hire staff? Tell me how about staff training.'”
Back at Creekside in Carmel, the alleged victim continues to receive counseling for her trauma, and her mom hopes their story is a safety lesson to everyone.
“I don’t want and my family doesn’t want this to ever happen to another child,” said the victim’s mother.
Some other questions parents can ask their camp include camper-to-employee ratio, discipline policies, how children are grouped and emergency plans for accidents.
Other questions include asking about the camp’s water safety policies, such as whether they require life jackets and what sort of training do counselors receive.
There is a lot of information on the American Camp Association website.