Sen. Seminara: Oversight of CT summer camps must be strengthened

February 29, 2024

Connecticut summer camps would see increased oversight under new proposal

By Alex Putterman

Feb 29, 2024

Hearst CT

Summer camp regulation came under a microscope Thursday at the State Capitol, as lawmakers heard testimony on a bill that would increase oversight of programs statewide.

The proposal, which had a public hearing in front of the Committee on Children, comes as legislators from both parties describe a need to protect kids amid allegations of abuse and neglect at certain Connecticut camps.

“Every parent in the state of Connecticut should feel comfortable sending their children to a camp knowing that they are going to be well taken-care of and that the camp is going to run in its most efficient and safe manner possible,” state Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon, said Wednesday.

The bill would:

  • require that the state’s Office of Early Childhood inspect new camps within 48 hours of their opening;
  • require that the OEC give greater priority to inspections for one-week camps and less priority for those that are nationally accredited and received no complaints the prior year
  • establish a Youth Camp Safety Advisory Council within the OEC (such a council already exists independent of the agency);
  • require that camps submit an annual report to the state detailing how their programs were run and how they responded to any medical or safety incidents;
  • allow the OEC to deny someone the ability to open a camp in Connecticut if that person had a license revoked in another state

“Parents need to know their children are safe in the care of others, and that includes summer camps,” state Rep. Liz Linehan, a Democrat from Cheshire who co-chairs the Committee on Children, said in a text Wednesday. “Therefore, clear consistent guidelines, determined with the input of responsible camps, parents and OEC, are necessary.”

The legislation follows a series of CT Insider reports on statutory violations at Connecticut summer camps, which revealed programs are rarely disciplined even when state officials uncover significant issues.

In one case, a camp closed for the summer due to allegations that counselors mistreated children, only to reopen the following summer with no additional oversight from the state. In another, the state declined to discipline a camp where administrators allegedly hid an incident in which a child almost drowned after being coaxed by a counselor to jump into the deep end of a pool.

In a rare instance when a camp had its license revoked, it reopened the next year in Pennsylvania.

Seminara cited several of those examples in explaining the need for further oversight of camps.

In addition to what’s already in the proposed bill, Seminara said she’d like to see a provision requiring the OEC to follow up with camps previously found to have committed serious violations.

Under current procedures, the OEC asks camps with violations to submit corrective action plans but doesn’t always follow up to ensure the plans are being followed.

“There needs to be some timely follow-up after an action plan is submitted and accepted to make sure that it’s being implemented and is successful,” said Seminara, the top Republican senator on the Committee on Children.

Several camp administrators had submitted written testimony expressing concerns with parts of the new legislation. Some questioned the need for further regulation, while others had more specific complaints, such as that requiring camps to submit annual reports would be redundant with existing procedures.

Chris McNaboe, a past Youth Camp Safety Advisory Council chair, argued against changing the structure of the council, arguing the existing structure works just fine.

“Our current system is working well and has done so over these 40 plus years, so why change it,” he wrote.

Katherine Davies, associate executive director of Camp Hazen YMCA and incoming YCSAC chair, endorsed hastening inspections on new camps and one-week camps but questioned the language around national accreditation, which she viewed as ambiguous.

Davies concluded that “providing the Office of Early Childhood with adequate resources to hire and train inspectors and staff to carry out the current regulations would go a long way to providing the necessary oversight of camps.”

OEC commissioner Beth Bye also submitted written testimony, neither supporting nor opposing the legislation but noting that some aspects would be logistically difficult or require additional staff and others appear redundant with existing OEC procedures. For example, the agency says it already asks camps whether they have been the subject of investigations in other states.

Ultimately, Bye wrote, “the OEC is committed to work together—with legislators, the executive branch, providers, advocates, and parents—to better serve our families with young children.

Linehan said she would wait to judge the feedback from camp administrators and the OEC until after Thursday’s public hearing. She said she would support additional funding to the OEC if it were deemed necessary to implement the bill.

Following the hearing, members of the Committee on Children will deliberate on the proposed bill and eventually decide whether to advance it to another committee or to the broader legislature.