At Camp Geronimo in Payson, the stage is nearly set for one of Arizona’s most popular overnight campsites.
“This time of year is crazy,” said Gregory Harmon, director of support services for the Boy Scouts of America Grand Canyon Council. “We’re recruiting staff, getting supplies, and just making sure everything is shipshape for when people arrive.”
Camp Geronimo is one of three destinations where more than 4,000 Arizona scouts will participate in summer camp.
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) meets rigorous national standards for fingerprint verifications, background checks, and other benchmarks. Scout staff members spend a full week training before the first scout arrives to camp.
“Everything from sexual harassment to youth protection training, even weather hazard training, so staff know what to do in the case of a severe weather event,” Harmon said.
But not every overnight summer camp is as rigorous as the BSA, and Arizona law doesn’t require background checks for staff and volunteers.
“They vary,” said Daphne Young of ChildHelp, an advocacy and educational organization located in Arizona. “There are some really big camps that have been the forerunners for prevention education. And there are some that, frankly, don’t pay much attention to it.”
Incidents in recent years should serve as warnings to parents.
In 2008, counselor Mark Johnston was working at a Peoria summer camp when he was arrested for molesting three girls on bus rides.
In 2012, Buckeye camp counselor Douglas Cherry pleaded guilty to sexual conduct with a third-grade girl. The girl told police he threatened to hurt her if she didn’t cooperate.
In 2014, a Scottsdale church volunteer, Christian Turcios, pleaded guilty to molestation and assault after he was charged with abusing two boys at summer camp.
Young says it’s not just about the background checks. Parents should consider other factors when researching summer camps.
“You want to make sure there are two counselors per bunk,” Young said. “Also, you’re looking at potential peer-on-peer abuse, which people don’t often think about.”
Another tip: don’t assume high-ranking authorities are more trustworthy.
“And that includes the camp doctor, making sure there’s a nurse in the room, making sure there’s another adult authority figure,” Young said.
Talk with your child about boundaries and make sure they understand they are never at fault if they are molested, Young said.
“Unfortunately, many people don’t end up revealing they were abused until they are adults, even into their 40s,” Young said.
One website that shows several Arizona camps that are accredited and require background checks of staff is the American Camp Association.
Anyone interested in learning more about scouting and scout camps can go to www.scouting.org.