For Kirstie Truluck, director of girls’ Camp Wavus in Jefferson, her best counselors demonstrate precisely what camps need:

“How to model healthy boundaries while maintaining a connection” to campers. Both elements are essential, Truluck said, because they are in the best interests of staff and kids alike.

“It’s subtle and simple advice. The kid should be setting the tone,” she said.

Such protocols are common at Maine camps. Healthy boundaries are part of the extensive training programs camps conduct before campers arrive. With licensing requirements promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services, plus the designation as mandated reporters of camp personnel over the age of 17, camps have much ground to cover to ensure campers have the best, safest, experience. Truluck said mitigation and management of risk takes many forms, from evaluating the temperature of water from faucets, to examining instructor certificates, to assessing infirmary practices. Camps like Wavus carry out extensive background checks of applicants, closely check references, and work with insurers to make sure staff driving records are clean.

As for staff training, Truluck said there are two goals: “increase capacity, decrease exposure.” The capacity element is broad, she said, ranging from teaching medical protocols and carrying out rescue scenarios, to learning about developmental stages, to team-building and peer engagement. “I intentionally have spent years finding all the different ways to train these young women to speak to each other, to share the good and the challenging things,” she said. That includes role-playing, to help foster open dialogue. Risk mitigation is also essential, Truluck acknowledged. Outside trainers teach everything from lifeguarding to first aid to abuse prevention and mandatory reporting requirements.

At Camp Micah in Bridgton, owner/director Mark Lipof described a multi-faceted approach to camper safety. Like Truluck, Lipof said a well-trained staff is vital. “They are the security for camp. All know who should be in camp and who shouldn’t. It’s every staff member’s job to address it.” Staff hiring practices are stringent, Lipof said. He said two assistant directors do the “leg work” of checking references, and in interviews “make sure [applicants are] correct for our setting.” Once at camp, staff members learn all relevant legal issues, Lipof said. That means understanding never to be alone with a camper and “not to put yourself in a situation where you can be accused.”

A Jewish camp, Camp Micah must also address safety concerns regarding anti-Semitism, Lipof said. Citing a 57 percent national increase in anti-Semitic crimes last year, he said the camp will have a 24/7 security presence this summer. The property is secured with a locked gate. With any safety concern, Lipof said the real question is, “what are you doing as a camp to make sure [campers] are physically and emotionally safe all summer?” Attending to those measures will help ensure that kids grow and learn, he said. Camp Micah is also accredited by the American Camp Association, a national organization with prescribed standards for operations, and regular visitation assessments.

Terri Mulks, director of Camp Susan Curtis, an ACA-accredited camp in Stoneham, guides youngsters for whom home environments are often challenging. “Our entire staff training is based on keeping campers safe and helping them feel safe at camp,” Mulks said. “They are coming from environments where that’s not a first priority.” As a result, Mulks said, thorough training is particularly important. An element of that is helping staff navigate conversations. “Sometimes kids talk privately. We cannot have private conversations with kids.”

Mulks said one approach is to facilitate “non-private private conversations.” Staff members first inform supervisors and then speak with campers “alone in front of everyone.” Porches and picnic tables permit campers to share concerns with staff members and allow staff to protect themselves, Mulks said. “It’s so important to make connections,” but a staff member is never permitted to be alone with a camper. Mulks said staff members undergo a 13-hour day of behavior management training in the latter part of training week. “One of the things about my job, I have to be ready for anything,” Mulks said. “I surround myself with very good people.”

Day camps must also comply with state licensing requirements and mandatory reporter obligations. Liz Tully is director of operations at Camp Ketcha in Scarborough, which is ACA-accredited and trains a staff of about 90 before the season. Tully said that by consulting with the insurance provider, and learning what other camps have dealt with, the camp can address potential problems. Also helpful, she said, are low camper-staff ratios, and the role of head counselors, who circulate around camp to observe activities and interactions. Communication with parents is also a top priority, Tully said.

 Kristine Snow Millard is a free-lance writer from Portland and a fan of all things summer, including camp.

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