With the weather turning warmer here in NY and the end-of-school countdown in full effect, summer camp has been a hot topic in our home. Recently, my 8-year-old food allergic daughter informed me that she has every intention of going to sleep away camp next summer. Gulp! That gives my wife and me a full year to stress and worry about sending her a hundred miles away from home and putting our trust in others.
For many of you though, reality will hit this summer. As a father of 8 who has many summers of kids in sleepaway camp under my belt, here are some important tips for those parents who are sending their food allergy kids to sleepaway camp for the first time:
Tip 1: Find a nut-free camp (no matter what the allergy). My kids have additional food allergies as well, but as a starting point, there are so many nut-free camps today that I don’t see the purpose in considering any others. Even if your child’s allergies are not nut-related, I would argue that a nut-free camp is more likely to empathize and cooperate with your child’s needs. At a minimum, be sure that the camp has a history and track record of serving food allergic children. Don’t assume that just because a camp says “sure, we can do that” that they have any idea what it entails to keep a child safe from food allergies.
Tip 2: Interrogate the camp director. Don’t be shy. Ask questions. You are your child’s advocate and keeping her safe is all that matters. Ultimately, you need to feel comfortable that you’ve chosen the right camp. Here are some things to investigate:
- Does the camp have previous experience with food allergic kids? Can they provide other food allergy families as references?
- Has the camp staff (and your child’s counselors) been trained on how to spot an allergic reaction and what to do if there is one? When it comes to allergic reactions, on the job training can be deadly.
- Has the camp staff (and your child’s counselors) been trained on how to use an epipen? Are they (properly) stored strategically throughout the camp?
- How far away is the nearest hospital?
- Has the camp kitchen staff been properly trained about avoiding cross-contamination? Can you trust that your child will always get a healthy and allergy-safe meal? Will you be allowed to speak to the head chef before camp?
- What’s the plan for field trips? Will the camp be able to accommodate your child’s dietary needs when on the road? Can you trust that an epipen will be close and accessible to your child at all times?
- Do they allow parents to send care packages to their children? Are these care packages carefully inspected to ensure that no dangerous foods are allowed in?
Tip 3: Prepare your child. Congratulate her. She’s reached a new milestone…now it’s time to review the rules with her to make sure her summer is safe and fun.
- Be smart and safe about food.
- Read labels.
- Recognize symptoms.
- Speak up when not feeling well.
To make sure your child is 100% prepared, I highly recommend FARE’s 7 Things Your Child Should Know Before Going to Camp with Food Allergies.
Tip 4: Get your child’s Allergy Action Plan in order and make sure your child and the camp have a copy.
This is the first part of a series of posts featuring allergy friendly summer camp opportunities. If you have any summer camp tips for food allergy parents or if there is a camp you think we should know about, please share in the comments below!