A special report from the informational blog and website AllergySense – Parents keep a watchful eye on their allergic children, making sure that they know what their child is eating, where is came from and how it was prepared. So what would permit parents like Karen Danard to send their children miles away where they can no longer supervise, let alone have any contact? Summer camp. Danard’s peanut-allergic son has been attending summer camps for the past ten years. Sending allergic children to summer camp can be a very nerve-racking decision for parents to make. It was a big step for Danard when her son wanted to go to his first overnight summer camp. “He had never actually been on his own like that before,” she says …
There are a number of factors that parents need to take into account when measuring the level of safety at a summer camp from areas as obvious as the kitchen to the unexpected soccer field, though making a solid decision does not always have to be a very risky gamble. Here are some tips that parents should consider before sending their allergic children to summer camp.
Check out camp web sites
A summer camp’s web site may be a good indication of how allergy-aware and prepared the camp is. While some camps display themselves as considerably more allergy-aware, readily providing information and contact numbers on their web site, others show no acknowledgement of food allergies. Although a camp may provide preliminary information, this does not necessarily mean that they will be able to make all necessary accommodations; it only shows that they have considered allergic campers ahead of time. Don’t base your judgement about a camp’s allergy policies solely on the information posted on the web. Make a follow up phone call to those camps that interest you.
Summer camps are more than ready to discuss safety issues with parents, including food allergies. However, you should always follow up with what you’re told. “There is this very fine line about putting trust in the person who’s giving you the information,” says Danard. She makes sure to ask the camp how long they’ve been dealing with food allergies and even asks for a family reference to find out what another allergic child’s experience was like. She also takes advantage of the opportunity to ask the camp detailed questions, such as where her son’s Epi-Pen would be when he’s out participating in water sports like canoeing or kayaking.
Learn about the kitchen
One of the most important aspects for parents to look at is what goes on in the kitchen. Summer camps with a greater kitchen staff to campers ratio will more then often be better at meeting allergy needs, says Lilly Brytus, coordinator of Allergy/Asthma Information Association’s (AAIA) Food Allergy Summer Camp. Each summer, AAIA’s camp accepts only 20 campers, making it easier for the kitchen staff of three to manage allergies on a one-on-one basis. Although the camp sounds small, there are also about 80 children from other camps on site and all children participate in activities together. AAIA’s camp also ensures that their children get to eat the same food that the other campers are eating, but an allergen-free version.
Many other camps prepare meals for hundreds of children at a time, making it difficult to remember specific allergies and prevent cross-contamination, though they assure parents that their allergic children can be accommodated for. While some camps say that they are nut-free, this does not help children suffering with other or multiple food allergies.
Find out whether the camp contacts food manufacturers before placing orders. Some camps only stick to only what the label reads. At AAIA’s camp, as well as at a few other summer camps, meal planners phone ahead to assess the company’s cross-contamination possibilities before confirming a shipment. “There are extra checks in place to make the food for the food allergy campers as safe as possible,” says Brytus. AAIA’s camp also orders specialty foods.
Find out emergency procedures
Parents need to know what the emergency procedure is if their child has an allergic reaction. Most camps have at least a nurse on site and some have doctors on call. Because AAIA’s camp is catered to children with food allergies, they have a pediatric allergist on call.
Parents should assure that their child’s auto-injector will be within reach, though most camps will also have spare auto-injectors on site. Many camps insist that children keep their auto-injectors with them, though some allow children to leave their auto-injectors elsewhere.
Find out how staff members are trained. Many summer camp staff are taught to recognize signs of anaphylaxis and how to administer an auto-injector. Some camps practice with mock auto-injectors. Parents may want to make sure that staff receives hands-on practice with auto-injectors and will know how to handle it efficiently in case of an emergency. If you want, ask the camp if you can conduct your own training session. This may give you a great sense of peace of mind knowing that you have personally trained each person who is in contact with your child.
Parents also need to know how far the nearest hospital to the camp is and that their child will be taken there immediately following a reaction. This can all be detailed out for the camp in an Emergency Plan.
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In the end, it’s about how comfortable you as a parent feel sending your child to summer camp. While summer camps are becoming more aware of food allergies and recognizing the need to accommodate for allergic children, there are still a number of questions parents need to ask. Will all of your child’s needs be met? How safe will the meals be? How efficiently can an allergic reaction be taken care of? Summer camps can only provide information; it is the job of parents to assess it and make the decision that is most appropriate for your situation.
Submitted by: Michelle Medford – a student of journalism at Ryerson University with a passion for writing. She has been living with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame and peas since she was in kindergarten and realizes the need to educate and inform others about food allergies. One of her first feature pieces scoped the Toronto dining scene and how they are holding up against the rise of food allergies.