A lot of parents will soon choose summer camps for their kids, but a Channel 2 Investigation found more than 200 metro camps may not be following state rules.
Georgia summer camps are already exempt from state oversight, including rules about ratios, safety procedures -- even guidelines on transporting children.
Parents who spoke with Channel 2's Sophia Choi said they weren't aware of the lack of regulation.
“I'm surprised that that's even legal,” mom Tracy Kistler said. “Realizing that a lot of camps aren't held to the same standards, it got me thinking about the camps I was looking at for this summer, so I started digging around and doing some research and was surprised.”
Carolyn Salvador, executive director of the Georgia Child Care Association, said Kistler isn't alone. Salvador said she is very concerned about how little parents know about summer camp regulation in Georgia.
“Parents are really often surprised to know that there's no oversight or regulations on any of these programs,” Salvador said. “I think parents would be shocked to know that there are thousands of unlicensed and exempt programs that are allowed to operate in our state without any kind of rules and regulations to protect children.”
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The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) monitors and has strict guidelines for child care.
Any facility whose primary function is something other than watching kids, such as crafts or a sports camp, is exempt from state oversight.
“They're not subject to ratio requirements like licensed programs are. They are not subject to the same supervision rules or the same transportation rules,” said Kristie Lewis, assistant commissioner for child care services with DECAL.
She said exempt programs do have to follow a few rules, including applying to be exempt with the state to make sure their programing qualifies, and notifying parents the program is exempt from regulation.
But that may not always be the case. Channel 2 tried to find state licenses or registered exemptions for more than 400 day camp programs advertising in the metro area and were unable to find licenses or exemptions for more than half. That’s more than 200 day camps.
Choi shared the list with DECAL to have them independently confirm her findings. DECAL said they found a number of camps that were not registered with the state, but had not completed reviewing the entire list before the air date of this story.
“There may be a few programs that are trying to fly under the radar,” Lewis told Choi. “The list you all provided us really gives us an opportunity to get out ahead of that before summer camp starts.”
Ty Woods, who helps manage five metro day camps, including Artportunity Knocks, said she was not surprised Channel 2 found so many camps had not registered with DECAL.
“Many camp directors just don't know what to do,” Woods said.
She said most are uninformed of the rules.
“They think because I have a five-day camp or a two-day clinic to play basketball, ‘Hey, I don't need to file for an exemption,’ but that's not the case,” Woods said.
Lewis told Choi that ultimately it's the parent's responsibility to ask questions, and do research when it comes to care for children.
[READ: How to evaluate summer camps]
“If you're placing your name and signing off on a form then I do think you have a responsibility to ask if you're not sure what that means,” Lewis said.
But parent Tracy Kistler said if the state regulates child care, state oversight for day camps shouldn’t be out of the question.
“It's a ton of hoops to jump through, or no hoops to jump through,” Kistler said. “There should be something in between. Just for safety.”
DECAL said they have been spot checking day camps to see how many voluntarily follow safety protocol. Lewis said the state has an independent company currently reviewing their findings and DECAL should make them public by early summer.
Experts, like Salvador and Lewis, said when choosing a day camp, parents should ask lots of question about what types of safety, training and transportation a camp uses. They also said parents should check DECAL's website to see if a program has a valid license or has been granted an exemption from the state.
Cox Media Group