Why Summer Camp Isn't as Safe as You Think (on The Huffington Post Parents)

It was a hot Monday morning in July and he was dribbling a soccer ball when it happened. Twelve-year-old Joshua Thibodeau was at a soccer camp last month when he suddenly collapsed. Within 45 minutes, he was dead. By all accounts Joshua Thibodeau's death was a tragic accident. Yes, it was hot, but he had just had a water break. Yes, the three coaches working at the camp, including one EMT, followed proper procedures. And, yes, little Joshua had undergone a medical exam within the past year clearing him to play soccer. With the autopsy results still pending it's useless to speculate on his cause of death (Sudden cardiac death syndrome? Dehydration? Seizure?). But it's useful to reflect on what parents can learn from this tragedy, especially as the fall sports season gears up.

Summer camps started in the United States in the 1880s, mainly for affluent boys. By the 1930s niche camps developed for girls, religious groups, and immigrants. These sleepaway and day camps focused on outdoor activities and a range of group activities and competition, like Color Wars.

While traditional summer camps still exist, in the twenty-first century it is specialty camps that have proliferated. Specialty camps focus on a specific activity -- like the soccer camp where Josh Thibodeau was playing. Middle- and upper-middle class parents opt to use the summer months to help their children develop concrete skills and credentials that will help them throughout the next year, and in the years leading up to the college admissions race.

Top-notch camp counselors are sought out for these specialty camps so that "the best" can teach kids how to be "the best." But just who are these camp counselors, and how qualified are they to be working with young kids? Unlike teachers, camp counselors are neither required to be certified to work with young children nor to be treated as experts in a given subject area (like soccer, tennis, dance, chess, etc.).

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