Children attend camps for troubled teens for a variety of reasons. In some cases, this is the final step before more serious consequences are taken, such as being admitted to a juvenile detention center or attention home program. For others, these camps can help teens who are struggling with emotional problems due to various circumstances, such as the divorce of the parents or a death in the family. There are a wide variety of camps to choose from, however, so keep the following points in mind.
- Type of Camp. Sometimes, teens can benefit from the structured environment of a day camp. They attend the camp each day for a set number of weeks, but they go home every night. For some families this is the most practical and economical choice, ensuring that the child has a planned itinerary every day, but still has time with his family in the evening. For others, a completely different change of scenery for an extended period of time is the best option. Residential camps for troubled teens offer teenagers a respite from the day-to-day disturbances, problems, and/or negative influences that they might face at home. Typically, more severe or problematic cases usually gain greater benefits from residential camps as opposed to day camps.
- Focus. Before you choose a camp for your troubled teen, consider the focus of the camp. Is the camp geared towards reaching teens through strenuous and physical activities, such as camping, hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, or biking? Does the camp have a more military or rigid atmosphere, with uniforms, drills, and commanders? For those students who are struggling academically, does the camp focus on improving the students' academic ability? Are there group therapy sessions for teens who are dealing with depression and anxiety?
- Staff. A camp will only be as good as its staff, so pay special attention to the training and education of the staff members. What are their qualifications? Do they have emergency medical training? Are any of the staff members certified counselors or psychologists? Are there doctors on call? How far away is the nearest hospital? What type of emergency or evacuation plans are in place? How long has the camp been open, and how long has the staff been working with this particular camp? Is the director accessible to parents? Do the camp counselors and other staff members welcome questions and visits from parents? How does the camp deal with rebellious teens or teens in danger of hurting themselves?
- Staff/Camper Ratios. Because troubled teens will need constant supervision and one-on-one interaction with counselors, it is imperative that parents find out the ratio of campers per counselor. Large groups of teens can't possibly be supervised adequately by only one or two counselors.
- Policies. What policies does the camp have regarding payments, cancellations, visitations, calls home, etc? What legal procedures are used if disruptive or illegal issues arise? When are parents notified if a problem occurs? Ask for a copy of any policies that the camp has in effect, and be sure and keep that copy to refer back to.
- Costs. Finally, what is the cost of the camp? Obviously, day camps will be significantly less than residential camps. Be sure to find out what supplies and/or equipment your child will be required to bring. In many instances, items such as rappelling equipment or boating supplies may be provided. However, your child may be asked to bring a sleeping bag, life preserver, etc., so find out about these requirements beforehand.