Florida requires that summer camp workers undergo background checks.
But, the state is one of only six in the nation that don't require that summer camps for children be licensed. Therefore, the state doesn't know how many camps there are, who operates them or who works in them, so there is little or no enforcement of the requirement for background checks.
As a result, a six-month investigation by the Palm Beach Post found, convicted child molesters and other violent criminals have worked at summer camps and children have been attacked or placed in great risk. Since 2000, at least 50 children have been victimized in summer programs or abused by workers the children first met at camp organizations, the newspaper reported.
Also, the Post found about 170 church groups or youth programs in Florida run by sex offenders, murderers, child abusers and other criminals. The list included 27 companies run by child rapists, molesters or other sex offenders.
That's more than a little disturbing, especially for parents who put their children in summer camps anticipating that owners and workers have been properly screened and their children are safe.
(The Post reportedly discovered the extent of the problem by comparing millions of corporate filings with criminal conviction records, court documents, police reports and news clippings, and through dozens of interviews.)
The state does require that day-care and child-care centers be licensed and that their workers undergo screenings. No license is required to open a camp for children, a major loophole in laws that should protect children from potential abuse.
According to the Post, Florida lawmakers have long known about the potential threat to children, but have failed to act. That's unconscionable.
With licensing, there could be some oversight, though enforcement of background checks would be more problematic. Random checks by state officials might prove effective.
Also, with licensing, the state would have some idea how many summer camps operate and who owns them.
Until the state begins to license the camps or at least begins to enforce background checks for camp workers, parents must be particularly careful in choosing the camp they want their children to attend. Parents must demand to know if background checks of workers have been undertaken and that the workers have no criminal records, particularly of violence or child abuse. Many camps, though unlicensed, do require background checks of their employees.
Summer camp can provide rewarding educational and social experiences for young people. And, there are many varied camps that provide unique opportunities for growth and fun.
But, some camps harbor criminals, unbeknownst to camp operators.
If you are sending your child to summer camp, ask questions and get the answers you want.