Considerations for Hosting Virtual Camps
Summer is a busy time for children’s programs, like short-term day camps, sleepaway camps and vacation bible school, but these activities will likely look a little different this year. If your organization is trying to figure out how to adapt your summer plans in the midst of COVID-19, consider virtual camp. Video conferencing technology makes it possible to create a sense of community with those who cannot physically be together. However, it does come with some challenges. Here are a few things your organization can do to minimize potential risks:
- Be diligent about proper supervision — the same principles of child protection still apply. We encourage a minimum of two adults be present at all times during virtual sessions.
- If all activities are virtual, it may be tempting to reduce staff to save money. However, consider the size of your camp sessions and keep your counselor-to-camper ratios the same or similar. Depending on how your online platform displays participants, you may need at least one staff member to look for camper questions and monitor participation or inappropriate behavior.
- Determine how to remotely manage inappropriate or unsafe behavior and impose appropriate discipline.
Policies and Documentation
- Require a written permission document from the parent or guardian allowing their child to participate in the program. The document should outline what material will be covered during each session and state that the parent is giving permission for the child to participate electronically in the program.
- Ensure your policies pertaining to campers address cyber harassment, online bullying and other inappropriate behavior. The virtual environment may require you to update your reporting or complaint procedures, as well as discipline options.
- Explain expectations for parental behavior and involvement in the camp, especially if you are enrolling younger campers who may be unable to work independently. Consider whether you will need a separate waiver for parents participating in camp activities.
- You may need to revise standard forms to account for your new camp “location.” Work with your organization’s counsel to review and update these forms as necessary:
- Photography/video releases
- Permission/consent forms for certain activities
- Acknowledgment of receipt and review of policies
- If your materials contain music or other media that may be subject to copyright law, work with legal counsel to get necessary clearances.
- Depending on your location, different laws may impact virtual camps. Keep in mind that your registered campers may live in other states and that may impact your legal obligations. Work with legal counsel to determine if different or additional laws apply to virtual rather than physical camps. Laws to consider include:
- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA)
- Privacy/recording limitations
- Accessibility requirements and tools
- Make sure that whatever web platform you use is carefully vetted and is appropriate for campers and camp activities. The platform you choose should have robust security features.
- Consider disabling the chat feature in the virtual platform or limit chatting between campers and the counselors/moderators.
- Mute all participants by default and only use participant video during group discussion time to limit distraction and the possibility of inappropriate images. Consider using electronic breakout rooms for small group discussions.
- Keep your programs check-in and check-out times consistent to avoid inappropriate interactions. End the video meeting when the content is finished.
- Be mindful of cyberbullying and other inappropriate behavior that emanates from online or social media activities outside of the formal virtual experience. Your policies should expressly prohibit one-on-one interactions between counselors and campers and prohibit counselors from “friending” or direct messaging campers. Copy a parent and another counselor (or supervisor) on any communication with a camper outside of a camp session.
- All social media postings should be on an organizational account and should be supervised. Staff should not contact campers or others directly through social media.
- Use safety measures, including passwords and waiting rooms, to assure that the correct attendees are allowed in. The window for each child should display the first name and last initial to protect privacy.
- Although virtual backgrounds protect privacy, limit their use to appropriately vetted images.
SOURCE: American Camping Association
© 2021 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.