You’ll see the ACA logo on a lot of camp websites. Let’s figure out what it means, exactly.
ACA = American Camp Association
The ACA is a national camp association that promotes the benefits of summer camp, sets standards for camps, and provides professional development via courses, conferences, and online resources.
What does ACA accreditation mean?
The camp has completed the process of submitting paperwork and documentation as well as passing inspections during site visits. The areas of standards are Site and Food Service, Transportation, Health and Wellness, Operational Management, Human Resources, Program Design and Activities, Aquatics Programs and Trip and Travel Programs.
Some of the standards are obvious: bunk beds must have rails, power tools may only be used by trained personnel, all dishes and utensils must be cleaned and sanitized, etc. Some are obvious but not easily checked by parents: smoke detectors in all buildings used for sleeping, all vehicles stocked with emergency equipment, or a resident camp must have a nurse or physician on site daily.
Then there are important standards regarding the hiring and training of staff members: annual background checks, behavior management training, and required time off. Specific guidelines for horseback riding and water activities are also included.
Ongoing requirements include an annual membership fee, an annual statement of compliance with the standards and site visits from the ACA every five years.
If you like reading detailed documents, here’s the list of qualifying standards:
How do I know if a camp is accredited?
Most accredited camps will display the ACA logo on their websites. You can confirm a camp’s status on the ACA website. Simply type in the name of the camp in the search box. Some camps are listed on the site that are not accredited, and the text on the right hand side will indicate that. If the camp is not found at all, it’s most likely not accredited, but you can email or call (1-800-428-CAMP) the ACA and they’ll let you know.
What if a camp is not accredited?
There are many reasons why a camp may choose not to go through the rigorous ACA accreditation process.
- They are a specialty sports or academic camp at a university.
- They are a non-profit funded by religious organizations and may use their donations for scholarships instead of compliance fees.
- They are an offshoot of a reputable organization that offers a short camp or backpacking experience as part of a summer program, as opposed to a full-fledged traditional resident camp.
It’s like the difference in day care ratings; 4 stars doesn’t mean that your child will necessarily have a lesser or unsafe experience than at a 5-star facility. It just means that the 5-star facility was able to document that they passed more of the higher-level qualifying standards.
With an ACA camp, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that a third party has certified that the camp has met a number of safety, facilities, programming, and staff-related standards. If you’re considering a non-ACA camp, you can do a bit of extra due diligence. Better yet, ask the camp why they are not certified, and make sure they have a reasonable answer.
A quick online search will give you tons of blog posts and articles on “10 questions to ask camp directors” or “Is my child safe at camp?” Here are a couple I found useful:
Is Your Child’s Summer Camp Safe? (skip the scary stuff, the question list is good)