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Norman E. Friedman, M. Ed., Executive Director, AMSkier Partners

August 5, 2015

Once again, as every summer before, our Camp ALERT Network has received calls asking for assistance when campers or staff members have either actually made attempts or threatened suicide or violent acts. With over nine million of America’s youngsters and hundreds of thousands of staff caring for them at camps nationwide, it’s no surprise that this is what happens during the off-season is destined to happen at camp. What makes our AMSkier Family of Camp Directors different is that denial is not part of their “tool box” when caring for other people’s children.

While every individual event is different, we have listed below an outline of information we feel is important to know and have immediately available when faced with either of these two issues.

Suicide threat or ideation
1.    Always believe the camper making the statement. Once made, the statement cannot be retracted. No exceptions!
2.    Resist the impulse to make this problem go away.
3.    Immediately isolate the camper from the group. There should be two awake staff with the child until brought to resolution.
4.    Any reference to suicide requires a psychiatric evaluation ASAP by a psychiatrist. No other clinician is qualified to make the evaluation. Evaluations may be administered at the local emergency room. If very close to the child’s home, the option to have the parents take the child to their own psychiatrist is acceptable.
5.    If going to the local hospital do NOT call the parent first. Once at the hospital, it is then appropriate to inform the parent of your action, not to ask for permission. Most often their reaction is to tell you their child did not mean what they said. Parent(s) need to report to the hospital and take responsibility for their child.
6.    The child can only return to a program if cleared by a psychiatrist in writing. We would like to be part of that process too.
7.    If the camper is to return, a written contract needs to be signed by the parent, child, and director clearly stating that a repetition of this incident will result in final termination for the child.
8.    Any camper who has heard the threat must have an opportunity to process it with a qualified professional who is trained to deal with it.
9.    Campers, as well as parents and guardians, need to know in advance exactly how you will deal with any comment that references suicide.
10.    AMSkier camps, please call us anytime day or night. We can identify with your pain and have staff immediately available to walk you through the process.
Homicide or threats of violence
Unfortunately, we have learned that children and youth, as well as adults who make statements that reference homicide and violence have, in fact, carried them out. Campers, staff, and parents need to know in advance of the season that you cannot tolerate threats of violence or homicide. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance.
1.    Always believe the camper or adult making the statement. Once made, the statement cannot be retracted. No exceptions!
2.    Resist the impulse to make this problem go away.
3.    Immediately isolate the camper from the group with two awake staff if still at the program.
4.    Police intervention may be appropriate if made by an adult.
5.    Children in residential as well as day camps who make the threats may need to be sent home. We can assist in the decision process.
6.    Some programs have successfully included “conflict resolution” trained staff to deal with some of these incidents.
7.    Parents or guardians of both the aggressor as well as the victim(s) need to be notified.
8.    Police notification is always necessary for threats of homicide and rape.
9.    Campers need to understand in advance exactly what your reaction will be if threats of harm are made to anyone.
AMSkier’s Camp Clients have access to AMSkier’s Camp ALERT Network (CAN). CAN staff are recognized camping experts who can walk camps through reacting to situations like those mentioned above. They are experts in law, public relations, and mental health. All we want to do is offer a collective 150 years of camping experience to our very special AMSkier Camp Directors. If your camp is not  yet insured with us, please consider beginning a relationship with us and contact our camp insurance team today

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