This article is the second in a series of three on SND planning for long-term camp that appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Abilities Digest.
Approximately 15% of all youth experience one or more special needs or disabilities. Whether hidden or visible, these youth appear in almost every troop or unit. Special needs pose the greatest challenge when the youth is in a novel environment, like long-term camp. A successful camp experience, for youth and adult leaders alike, depends on planning ahead, especially since some campers are affected by special needs.
First Step: Unit leadership should make sure parents and leaders have reviewed the camp Leaders’ Guide. Each long-term camp provides such a guide, and it outlines all camp requirements and activities.
Second Essential Step: Adult leaders should perform pre-trip research, such as determining when and how to travel to and from camp. Always follow the Guide to Safe Scouting for drive times. If a Scout has special needs, consider other issues: Will the length of the trip have implications for fatigue or emotional outbreaks? Will the Scout require a quiet car? Will frequent stops be necessary?
Third Step: Decide how to handle medications for youth. This plan should comply with the camp’s local rules and laws and with BSA’s safe use of medication policy. BSA’s policy is described in a “Safety Moment” and in a detailed document.
Fourth Step: the unit should arrange a camp informational meeting for campers, parents, and adult leaders. The agenda should include the following:
- Share the travel plan with all participants and make adjustments as needed.
- Provide a vivid description of the camp experience. This could include a virtual tour if provided by the camp or if available through Google Maps.
- Create a duty roster for both youth and adult leaders. This gives all campers a preview to their daily personal obligations, and reduces uncertainty.
- Provide the schedule for camp programs, merit badge classes, or other activities. Try to schedule individual merit badges and program opportunities with plenty of time for additional needs, such as changing time when Scouts are doing any water or swimming activities.
- Discuss arrangements for Scouts to take the camp swimming test. Many camps allow Scouts to complete these before arriving, which frees up time at camp. Scouts with special needs may be more successful at a unit-organized swim test before camp, since it may provide a less stressful environment for the test.
- Explain how youth medications will be handled at camp. Warn parents that long-term camp is a very bad time for youth to take a “medication vacation.” Provide parents with a discreet, confidential way to discuss medication management with unit leaders.
- Be sure to collect information about food allergies, mobility restrictions, or other special needs. As with medications, provide a discreet, confidential way for parents to provide the information.
- Assign buddy groups among Scouts attending individual merit badges. No Scout should attend merit badge training alone.
Unit leaders should try to talk one-on-one with parents whose campers require medications or adaptations for special needs or disabilities. Leaders should also take the additional step of contacting the camp staff and sharing necessary information about special accommodations or other needs.
While these recommendations apply particularly to Scouts with special needs and disabilities, they improve the experience for all participants. Advance planning reduces uncertainty and anxiety for Scouts and adult leaders alike.