I remember my childhood summers as a time of nonstop action. Whether I was setting up a lemonade stand at our neighborhood roller skating rink (otherwise known as Mrs. Swanson’s driveway) or inviting my friends over to run in the sprinklers (don’t judge, it was the eighties), we had a grand time getting into mischief and having fun. And the highlight of each summer was going to camp. From simple three-hour morning classes to full-fledged sleep-away camp, I always had a blast.
Equally important, I now realize, was that Mom also had a break while I was away at camp. And today, I am scrambling to figure out ways to give myself that same kind of break during the three loooong months of summer parenting. Don’t get me wrong, I love the laid-back, create-our-own adventure days I have with my daughter, but I also want to provide her with outside activities that are both fun and safe. As I consider various summer programs, here are some legal issues this mommy-lawyer keeps in mind, and you should, too:
Emergency Contacts and Releases
I know, I know. Sounds so basic, but it’s necessary for anyone caring for your child to have emergency contact numbers – yours and any co-parent’s as well as a pediatrician’s – and a release for medical treatment. If your child is taking any prescription medications or has any medical conditions or allergies, be sure to include that information, and give camp personnel an Epi-pen, along with prescription information, if you have one. Remember to update the information at least once a year if your child has been going to the same place for years, and be proactive if the camp provider doesn’t ask you to fill out a new form. Also, be sure to read the fine print, because liability releases are often included in the forms to protect the camp, and you should know what rights, if any, you are signing away.
Child Protection Policy
Any camp supervising children should have a child protection policy, and a requesting parent should be readily provided a copy. Look for guidelines concerning whether or not adults are allowed to be alone with children, how bathroom visits are handled for young children, and what kind of background checks are performed on camp staff, including support staff such as cooks or drivers for field trips. If the camp does not have a policy in place, suggest they create one. It’s a relatively easy process that helps ensure the safety of children, and there’s really no good reason not to have one. Also, remember to talk to your children about good versus bad touching, and remind them that they can and should talk to you about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit is available for qualifying child care expenses for children under age thirteen, which can include summer camp fees. Usually, tuition for summer school and expenses for overnight camps do not qualify, but many day camps are eligible. Save those receipts, and talk to your accountant.
After a disastrous foray into booking camps based entirely on our family’s schedule, I finally asked my daughter to weigh-in with her camp preferences. She told me she wanted to do art, science, and theatre, and then gave me a funny look. “What will YOU do while I’m at camp?” she asked, her five-year-old eyes twinkling. After a whirl of thought bubbles containing all of the things I would like to accomplish in that time, I just smiled and said, “Thinking of more fun and safe stuff for you!”