Going to camp is an exciting opportunity for many children, but it can also provoke anxiety for parents. This is especially true for parents of children with serious food allergies. However, with some careful planning, parents can help their children enjoy a safe and happy camp experience.
Helping to safeguard a camper with food allergies is a joint responsibility shared by camp staff, parents and the camper. As you begin to prepare your child for camp, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
First, involve your child in making decisions.
Talk to your child about what his/her expectations and comfort level are in attending camp, especially if this is their first time. Ask them if they have any concerns related to their food allergies and try to help alleviate any anxiety they may have. Let them know that you will be working closely with the camp to ensure that the staff are aware of their allergies and can help manage them safely.
Second, be proactive when selecting a camp.
Begin by doing your homework on the types of camps that are available and consider the following:
- Get in touch with other parents of children with food allergies in your area for recommendations of allergy-aware camps.
- Check out camp websites for their allergy policy.
- Phone ahead and speak with both the camp director and the head chef about your child’s needs before deciding on a camp.
Next, fully research the camp you’re considering
Set up some time with the camp director to ask the following questions:
- Does the camp have a written allergy policy and how is it implemented?
- Do they have previous experience with campers who have food allergies?
- Can you call the parent of a past camper to discuss their child’s experience?
- What happens in an emergency?
- Is there medical staff on site?
- Where is the nearest hospital located and what means of transportation is used in emergency situations?
Emergency medication: epinephrine auto-injectors
- Who is trained to administer epinephrine auto-injectors (e.g. EpiPen®) and who trained them?
- Are counsellors trained on how to avoid allergens, to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction and know what to do in an emergency?
- Are there back-up epinephrine auto-injectors available and where are they located?
- Is your child permitted to carry their medication?
- Where is it kept during activities such as swimming or other water sports?
- How is food stored, prepared and served at the camp?
- Do they have your child’s food allergen in the kitchen? If so, what precautions do they take to ensure against cross-contamination?
- Ask to review the menu in detail. Inquire whether the camp contacts food manufacturers before placing orders to check on allergens or potential cross-contamination.
- Can they create a special menu for your child?
- Where do the campers eat and what level of supervision is provided?
- Are campers allowed to bring food from home?
- What is the counsellor-to-camper ratio?
- Will the counsellor assigned to your child receive additional training specific to your child?
- How will be campers with food allergies be identified without being singled out?
- Are fellow campers informed of kids with food allergies?
- What precautions are taken for off-site events?
- Who carries back up epinephrine auto-injectors and what emergency plan do they follow?
Once you’ve completed your research and selected a camp, be sure to:
- Consider attending the camp’s open house information day before camp begins.
- Call ahead and ask to meet with the camp director, the head chef and, if possible, your child’s counsellor(s). This will allow your child to become familiar with the surroundings and the staff before he/she arrives.
- Complete and submit the camp medical forms and prepare a detailed Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan, complete with a recent photo and emergency phone contact information, to provide to the camp well ahead of the start date. (Pack an additional copy of the plan with your child’s personal belongings).
- Provide at least two epinephrine auto-injectors to the camp.
- Reinforce key rules with your child:
- no sharing of food
- always read the food label or check for ingredients
- always carry epinephrine auto-injectors
- wear MedicAlert® identification
- remember: when in doubt, do without.
- Talk to your child about what to expect such as:
- how his/her food will be prepared and served
- where his back-up epinephrine auto-injectors will be kept,
- who is allowed to administer the auto-injector if necessary,
- where the medical staff are located
- explain what will happen if he/she has a reaction.
- Teach your child to tell someone immediately if they think they are having a reaction and reassure them that they will be cared for in an emergency.
If your child will be going to sleepaway camp, consider the following:
- Visiting the camp with your child can help you make a decision and also help your child feel ready and prepared. Encourage your child to ask questions and be the point person as much as they are able.
- Some kids may be more prone to risk-taking behavior, especially if it is their first time away from home. Talk to your child about this in a non-judgmental way. Express confidence in your child’s judgment and stay open to any questions they may have for you.
Although there are many things to consider when preparing for camp, with the right planning and preparation, your child can have a happy and safe camp experience.