SOUTH FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has confirmed the state was unaware of any of the three camp operations in a South Fulton park where a young boy drowned Friday.
Benjamin Kamau Hosch, 5, drowned in a creek. He was a camper with the Cochran Mills Nature Center in Palmetto.
In a news conference Monday, the boy’s parents painfully recounted their agreement with the center’s Camp Cricket for kindergartners and first graders. They said they never authorized the impromptu creek splash activity, nor were they notified of a change in scheduled plans. Benjamin could not swim.
“I can’t go on,” cried Ariyat Idris Hosch alongside her husband. “I have to live (with the fact) that I gave them money to kill my son.”
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The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning confirmed Cochran Mills Nature Center had never notified the state of Camp Cricket. On Tuesday, Channel 2’s Nicole Carr confirmed the state did not know about two additional camps listed on the center’s website. The Junior Naturalist and Adventure camps are designed for different age groups and take part in different activities.
The Center has been operating the camps for 23 years. While there are day camps that are not required to be licensed by Georgia state law, all camps must notify the state of their operation in order to receive licensure exemption.
Cochran Mills Nature Center did not notify the state of its longtime operations, a state spokesperson confirmed. The state has launched its own investigation into the operation.
Neither the governing board nor the staff of Cochran Mills Nature Center would grant an interview on Hosch’s death. Their board of director’s vice chair, Steve Hurwitz, told Carr on-camera interviews were against the center’s lawyer’s advice, given pending litigation. The group did release a statement with details on losing track of Hosch, the four to 13 supervision ratio, and having no other major incident in their two decade history. They expressed remorse for the child’s death.
When Carr asked about the failure to notify the state of three camp operations, Hurwitz emailed that they were considered one camp, but did not address the notification missteps.
Cochran Mills Nature Center and its camps have been shut down by the state.
PRESSURE TO CHANGE STATE REGULATIONS
In May, Channel 2 uncovered more than 200 camps operating without a license or an exemption agreement from the state. That’s more than half of camps operating in Georgia.
We showed the list to Kristie Lewis, assistant commissioner for Childcare Services.
“There may be a few programs that are trying to fly under the radar,” Lewis told Channel 2’s Sophia Choi. “The list you all provided us really gives us an opportunity to get out ahead of that before summer camp starts.”
On Monday, the state confirmed they were still reviewing that list, and had not yet shut down any camps on it.
The Georgia Childcare Association Center said news of Hosch’s death highlighted a fight they’ve been battling for years -- tougher camp regulations.
“I was simultaneously heartbroken, but we knew this day would come,” said Ellen Reynolds, GCCA’s executive director.
“What’s it going to take in order for Georgia to give DECAL the resources it needs so that they can adequately monitor programs and shut down unlicensed care that’s operating illegally?”
Camp licensure requirement is based on a number of factors including age groups, activities and fees. If the state does not deem a program license eligible, they may provide exempt status. Hundreds of camps fall in that category.
“Child care centers have over 400 rules they have to comply with in order to keep your children safe, said Reynolds. “Unlicensed care and exempt programs have zero.”
That license is the difference between adhering to requirements like CPR training, supervision ratios and sanitary regulations.
Reynolds said most parents don’t realize so many camps operate without a license.
“They don’t even know to ask,” said Reynolds.
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