- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

CROYDON, N.H. (AP) - As the summer camp season opens, new state rules require paid and volunteer workers at “skills” camps to undergo criminal background checks while anybody under 18 at both traditional and skills camps has to get two letters of reference about their fitness to work with children.

Chip Mackey, who leads the state Department of Environmental Services division that monitors summer camps, says camps that violate the law face a fine of up to $2,000 for each offense. The state won’t review the criminal background checks and letters of reference because of confidentiality requirements.

“The person running the camp is responsible for being sure they have the appropriate staff, so the onus is on them,” Mackey said. “There could be potential civil liability if something bad happens and the background check wasn’t done.”

The requirements affect workers who spend more than three consecutive days with children.

They stem from legislation passed in 2013 to expand background checks to skills camps that offer instruction in a range of activities including sports, music and art. State Rep. Donald LeBrun of Nashua said he co-sponsored the legislation after noticing a rash of molestation charges at camps nationwide.

“I saw the need for it … and went all out to see that something could be done,” LeBrun said. “I’m going to wait and see how it goes this summer and I may bring something forward to enhance it a bit.”

The changes have meant extra work for the camps.

“We’ve had groups of people working on hiring about 150 staff members, which sounds easy but there are references to check, extensive background checks, sexual offender database checks,” said John Tilley, executive director of Camp Coniston in Croydon. “We make sure they are as clean as we are capable of finding out.”

Scott Blewitt, recreation director for the towns of New London and Sunapee, said the British soccer skills camps he contracts with have conducted criminal background checks on all employees. He said he does the same for all his staffers and volunteers.

“I have wonderful people, but sometimes wonderful people make bad choices,” Blewitt said. “This is a scary world we live in, and some people are not very forthcoming. It’s not news I want to see on the front page involving one of the recreation departments I’m running.”

Other states have wrestled with rules governing people who work with or volunteer with children. Driven by questions over cost and inconvenience, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted this week to further narrow a new state law that requires people who work with children on the job or as volunteers to undergo background checks.

In New Hampshire, the state couldn’t ask for criminal background checks for people under 18 because those records are confidential. Instead, those workers have to submit two letters of reference, including one from a non-relative that “attest that they’ve never threatened or harmed anyone else and that the person is fit to work with minors,” Mackey said.

P.J. Lovely, who heads Newport’s recreation department, said he’s noticed few skills camps this summer, possibly because of the new requirements.

“It’s getting more difficult to recruit them,” Lovely said. “We want to keep the kids safe - that’s the No. 1 goal - but the red tape can make it daunting to have enough activities for your children.”

Jim Harvey of Concord, who runs “Letgo Your Mind” engineer skills camps throughout the state, said the new requirements are worth the work.

“I want to make sure everyone’s safe,” Harvey said. “It’s not a pain.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide