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Maintain strong barriers with hiring practices rooted in abuse prevention

With the summer hiring season well underway, camps again face the formidable task of recruiting and retaining enough quality, skilled staff to safely deliver the transformative experience your camp community has come to love and expect. It is no secret that seasonal staff hiring has been a rising challenge and major concern for the camp industry since the onset of the pandemic.

The difficulties posed by a competitive labor market and a general lack of employees are not going away as we anticipate the upcoming camp season. In this environment, you must meet the pressure to hire with great intention and diligence rooted on the foundation of an effective abuse prevention safety system. We want to highlight some key tips and strategies for strengthening barriers and creating layers of protection for both you and your camp community. By following these tips, you can face this challenging hiring climate by saying, “Bring it on!”

You may be familiar with the “Swiss cheese” model used to describes the layers of defense needed to protect against COVID-19. A 2020 New York Times article described how, “the metaphor is easy enough to grasp: multiple layers of protection, imagined as cheese slices, block the spread of the… virus. No one layer is perfect; each has holes, and when the holes align, the risk of infection increases. But several layers combined… significantly reduce the overall risk.” (Roberts, 2020) Camps should remember this model when evaluating safety systems, especially when it comes to abuse prevention efforts. All layers of protection are important because each one by itself is not perfect. The more layers you have in place, the stronger your safety systems will be.

Unfortunately, recent history provides numerous examples of organizations assuming they had a strong child safety system in place because they required background checks of anyone working with their youth - only to be blindsided by an allegation of abuse against someone who had cleared the check. I recently had the opportunity to complete the Sexual Abuse Prevention Awareness Training offered through Church Mutual’s program partner, Abuse Prevention Systems® (APS), which shares that “less than 10% of sexual abusers will EVER encounter the criminal justice system.” (Abuse Prevention System, n.d.) This statistic supports how a criminal background check is the bare minimum expectation for any organization to help keep kids safe. For the greatest protection, multiple layers or barriers must be used.

APS states, “At the core of an effective child safety system is this reality: what we BELIEVE shapes what we DO. Prevention starts with awareness.” With the goal of increasing awareness, they suggest an effective child safety system needs five essential components.

Awareness Training

Increasing awareness begins with training, because we cannot manage a risk we do not understand. This is true for both camp staff responsible for supervising campers and camp leadership involved in your hiring process. All training should be rooted in an understanding of the “grooming process.” Studies have shown that 90% of abuse victims are abused by someone they know and trust, which means there is no visual profile for those who would harm a child. With offenders often looking like you and me, we must recognize the risk behaviorally. That means recognizing and understanding the signals and actions known to be part of the grooming process. From your director to your camp staff, everyone in your organization should have a thorough understanding of common grooming behaviors and known offender characteristics.

Effective & Skillful Screening

Screening is the process camp leaders use to gather information about an applicant’s past behavior, helping to create the most accurate expectations for future behavior. A camp’s typical screening process includes an application, interview, reference checks and a criminal background check. Commonly, camps screen applicants to determine whether the person has the skills, abilities and/or education to fill a particular role. By including questions designed to elicit high-risk indicators or red-flag responses, skillful screening enables leaders and hiring managers to also discern if an applicant or volunteer has the right motives for working with children. Does the applicant have a pattern of interacting with children of a specific age and gender? Did they fail to provide contact information for supervisors from past experiences working with youth? Has the applicant interacted with children in environments that are not easily or regularly supervised? Affirmative answers to any of those questions should raise red flags.

Once you have a full awareness of the grooming process, multiple methods of interviewing are available to help you create a more accurate picture of whether the applicant would be the right fit. Behavioral interviewing uses questions about past behavior to evaluate an applicant’s capacity for critical thought and the practical application of rules. Situational interviewing poses questions to the applicant relating to specific situations that have or could happen on the job, enabling you to measure their willingness to modify their behavior to fit your camp rules and culture. Especially in a competitive labor market, skillful screening is essential for ensuring you have the right team onboard.

Criminal Background Checks

Criminal background checks are an important part of your child safety system, but they cannot serve as a standalone safety protocol. Background checks  there are not one-size-fits-all: The depth of the background check should be determined by the extent of the position’s direct contact with children. Best practice is to conduct a check on all staff annually. At a minimum, we strongly recommend researching your state and any applicable regulatory agency requirements. To learn more about background check thresholds, guidance on choosing vendors and regulatory requirements, check out the American Camp Association’s page on Criminal Background Checks – Issues and Resources for Camps.  

Tailored Policies & Procedures

A camp’s policies and procedures provide written definitions of what behaviors are permissible, as well as those that are not. Effective abuse prevention policies are shaped around an understanding of the abuser’s grooming process, abuser characteristics and common grooming behaviors. They are only truly effective, however, when they fit your specific program and the population you serve. Written policies should present clear guidelines concerning appropriate touch, talk, boundaries, social media interaction, bathroom use, one-to-one interaction, overnight stays and reporting requirements.

Current abuse prevention policies and practices should be communicated as part of your skillful screening process, starting at the interview. Applications should clearly state mandatory reporting requirements. Also, have applicants review and acknowledge specific camps rules like the Rule of Three, appropriate physical touch guidelines or a specific code of conduct. This communicates to potential offenders that your camp is not the right place for them and provides an opportunity to opt out before they even have access to campers.

Monitoring and Oversight

The final component in the APS five-part safety system recommends that every organization incorporate a system for monitoring and oversight to ensure your policies and procedures, abuse prevention training and skillful screening process are functioning as they should. New child protection programs should be evaluated, changes in reporting requirements monitored and the need for ongoing policy updates and modifications addressed. Periodic review also ensures that the loss of one or two key staff members won’t put your campers’ safety in jeopardy.

As a youth serving organization, we know you face the great responsibility for ensuring the safety of your camp community. By incorporating additional layers of protection like the components described above, you can create a comprehensive safety system that reduces the risk of abuse through tailored preventative measure and ensures the hiring of quality and prepared staff. Church Mutual policyholders are eligible to receive a 50% discount on an annual membership from APS. A membership includes access to the APS Control Panel, allowing users to send and manage trainings, as well as a library of sample policies and screening forms. Additionally, policyholders receive 20% off all APS online trainings.


For more information about Abuse Prevention Systems® or other resources for keeping your campers safe, visit

Roberts, S. (2020, December 8). The Swiss Cheese Model of Pandemic Defense. The New York Times.

Abuse Prevention System. (n.d.).