St. Louis childcare providers warn parents of pop-up summer camps

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ST. LOUIS – The child who drowned at his summer camp in July has exposed a loophole in the law. According to caregivers, summer camps can sometimes set their own rules, putting your child at risk.

Two childcare providers at Tesson Ferry’s Apple of Your Eye learning center said they were alarmed by what they’ve seen with other summer camps. They said they wanted to help parents ask the right questions.

Regulators from the Missouri State Child Care Bureau were in focus during their regular inspections. Center inspection records can be viewed online to see if the facility complies with teacher-child ratios, background checks, and many other safety requirements.

Apple of Your Eye Learning Center owner Elizabeth Ghiassi said pop-up summer camps aren’t subject to the same regulations.

“They really must have nothing,” Ghiassi said. “It certainly costs more to be regulated by the state because you have a lot more things they want you to do. But at the end of the day, we are taking care of a human life.

Ghiassi said she was horrified to see 35 children from a different summer program walking along Tesson Ferry with just two adults.

“I couldn’t take 35 kids out and walk them on a busy road,” Ghiassi said. “It just wouldn’t happen.”

She said she would be closed if she did that.

Lisa Coulter, who has worked with Ghiassi for decades, recalls another incident Ghiassi recently witnessed.

“Oh my God, we’re sitting here and 91 kids just got off the bus with two counselors,” Coulter said. “I said, ‘Excuse me?’

Ghiassi said she reported what she saw to regulators.

“I didn’t do anything because the state says they don’t regulate pop-up summer camps,” she said.

FOX 2 reported the lack of regulations on summer camps after TJ Mister drowned on July 20 at his St. Louis County summer camp.

County officials said they could not answer FOX 2’s questions about staffing and training until the police investigation is complete. Daycare inspection records are not listed because the incident occurred at an unregulated summer camp.

“I’m not sure parents fully understand what’s going on at some of the summer camps,” Ghiassi said. “There are some great ones out there, don’t get me wrong, but they need to ask questions.”

Ghiassi said she drafted the following parental checklist of 12 things she said parents should check and ask about before enrolling their child in an unregulated summer camp.

Here are Ghiassi’s tips for families looking for summer camp options:

1. Make sure any summer camp program is licensed by the State of Missouri – these licenses are always displayed for the public

2. Make sure all camp counselors are 18 or older

3. Ensure background and fingerprint checks have been completed on all camp monitors

4. Check how many counselors are trained and certified in CPR

5. Start early by watching…. Many programs fill up quickly / give yourself time to check out programs so you’re not rushed

6. Make sure the summer camp you choose is age appropriate! Big difference in a camp suitable for 5/6 vs 11/12 make sure the activities planned are age appropriate

7. Ask for a list of planned daily activity, so you know exactly what they will be doing

8. Always keep in mind that these summer camps don’t know your child unless it’s a daycare they attend. They are unaware of their strengths and weaknesses / you have to tell them / parents should never assume anything

9. If field trips are planned / what mode of transport is used / seat belts / walking / personal vehicles

10. Ask what is the ratio of children to counselors in the building, and what is the ratio of children to counselors outside the building. The outside ratio should always be lower.

11. It’s ultimately the responsibility of the parent because no one knows their child better / does he roam / does he have good ears to listen / this should come into your decision making

12. We always say if it can be done by a child / it will be done…. Never underestimate a child

She said she encouraged parents to seek out a program that meets their needs.

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