As you consider all the possibilities, ask yourself the following questions: Is it the first time away from home for a child who doesn’t yet check his own blood glucose, or who doesn’t want to stop playing when it’s time for his snack? Or do you have a teen who has been dependable and quite capable in all aspects of his diabetes care? Is your child easily influenced by peers, so that diabetes care takes a back seat? Does your child seek out adult help when he needs it? Does he hate to tell people he has diabetes?
Parents of young, first-time campers will probably be most comfortable if their child attends a diabetes camp. Kids who need a lot of help and direction in their blood glucose self-monitoring, insulin injections, and food choices would definitely benefit from a diabetes camp.
Pragmatically, your decision may be most influenced by availability and cost. The earlier you apply to a camp, the greater your chances of getting a spot. Most diabetes camps give full or partial scholarships, or “camperships,” based on financial need, so ask for information about financial aid before you rule out a camp that seems expensive.
Make sure the camp you are considering is accredited by the American Camping Association. Accreditation ensures the camp takes certain safety measures, which include meeting cleanliness standards, having a high staff-to-camper ratio, hiring credentialed program staff (such as lifeguards), and performing background checks on staff, among many others. Beginning in the summer of 2002, the Association will alert its member camps to the availability of new diabetes-care guidelines that have been developed in partnership with the American Diabetes Association.
Preparing for camp
Most diabetes camps will provide information or a manual about how diabetes will be managed at camp. Parents can also call the director to talk about any particular concerns. Talking to the parent of a child who has attended the camp can also be arranged.
Preparing for a traditional camp experience will require more advance planning. Parents must be advocates for a safe, fun experience for their camper. Start by asking your child’s diabetes team for help and suggestions, then set up a meeting with the camp director. If possible, include the camp nurse if there is one. The camp nurse at a traditional camp is most likely the only medical professional at camp. The nurse may have no Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes experience and may not be on duty 24 hours a day. Find out what you have to work with. Another staff member may need to be involved in your child’s diabetes care. If the camp nurse is not available at this first meeting, arrange another time, but don’t plan on meeting during camp check-in; it’s too busy then.
Be prepared to tell the camp director and nurse precisely what accommodations your child needs while he is at the camp. First, see if you can find a way to work within the system the camp has in place. For instance, it may be simple to move your child’s breakfast time 45 minutes to coincide with camp breakfast time. However, insist on accommodations when necessary. For example, your child must carry treatment for low blood glucose at all times, whether food is normally allowed in tents or cabins or not.
After the meeting, put all the information the camp staff needs about your child’s diabetes care in writing and provide many copies for them to keep handy. Meet with your camper’s cabin counselor at check-in and go over everything again. List the situations in which you want to be called and those in which your camper’s physician or diabetes team needs to be called. Be sure you understand the camp’s policy on accepting phone calls from parents. Phoning in to camp is handled differently at each camp, and some camps strongly discourage parents from phoning.