Tennessee requires summer camps to get permit; Georgia, not so much
School is almost out, which means summer camps are gearing up.
But how well are those camps monitored?
Camps in Georgia are not regulated by the state, meaning they do not need a license to operate. It is a different story in Tennessee.
In Georgia, if a camp cares for children five years or older, operates between school terms like summer break for no more than 12 hours a day and provides organized activities, the camp is exempt from needing a license. In Tennessee, all camps have to be certified by the health department and have to meet a list of requirements.
In Hamilton County, there are 23 camps eligible to operate. But before they can open to the public, the health department has to sign off.
“By law, it can't operate without an inspection or a permit to operate,” Lowe Wilkins, with the Hamilton County Health Department, said. “If a church has it just for their members only, that's sometimes exempted as well, so there are some exemptions to the requirements.”
Wilkins says camps are usually inspected every six months. However, some camps do not run that long, so the health department tries to inspect twice during the camp's duration. They check to make sure the camp's building is in good condition, that there is proper plumbing, fire alarms, marked exits and first aid kits, among other things.
“They start off with a 100 score and as the violations are found, then that's deducted from that score. They have 10 days to correct it or try to correct it immediately, and if they don't basically meet that criteria, they are temporarily closed,” Wilkins explained.
A warrant can be issued if a camp tries to operate without a permit or does not meet regulations. The camp can also be fined.
“There's a fine between $10 to $50 per occurrence per day if it's necessary if they will not comply with the regulations,” Wilkins said.
But who verifies camp employees?
According to Wilkins, that is up to the camp director. So we went to Camp Big Fish (Believers in God Faithful in Serving Him) to learn about their process.
“This is a new era and so you when you're working with kids, you just want to be as safe a possible with everything you do,” owner Jeremy Deitch said.
Deitch started the camp 10 years ago. The camp strives to provide a fun outlet for kids while helping them grow in their faith. With six locations across the state, Deitch said about 100 kids, from rising kindergartners to six graders, register at each site for 10 weeks in the summer.
“Each campus has about 20 to 25 staff that works at that campus. There's 10 to 15 counselors, and then five to six leadership,” he said.
But those employees do not get hired easily.
“We like to do FaceTime interviews. It's very efficient. We can kind of talk with you, and then the second interview, they come in and actually talk with the director maybe they sit down and have coffee or they come to the church,” Deitch said. “Then we're checking those reference checks, then we're checking with the pastor.”
Deitch says they run background checks on all candidates, even those employed through their vendors and partners like bus drivers. They even look at social media.
“You're looking for red flags. You're looking for things that would stand out, so to speak, that might hinder them from working with kids,” Deitch said. “I want the best counselor, the best staff that we can possibly get.”
If you ever have a complaint or concern about your child's camp, you are asked to contact the Hamilton County Health Department. You can also check to see if your child's camp has been inspected and the results of their inspections. To do so, visit the health department's website.