ACA-Accredited Camp FAQ
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Why an ACA-Accredited Camp?
ACA Accreditation means that your child’s summer camp cares enough to undergo a thorough peer review of its operation — from staff qualifications and training to emergency management. American Camp Association collaborates with experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross, and other youth-serving agencies to assure that current practices at your child’s camp reflect the most up-to-date, research-based standards in camp operation. Camps and ACA form a partnership that promotes growth and fun in an environment committed to safety.

ACA helps member camps provide:

  • Healthy, developmentally appropriate activities and learning experiences
  • Discovery through experiential education
  • Caring, competent role models
  • Service to the community and the environment
  • Opportunities for leadership and personal growth

Answers to Parents' Most Frequently Asked Questions About Camp Accreditation

What’s the difference between state licensing of camps and accreditation by ACA?
Accreditation is voluntary and ACA accreditation assures families that camps have made the commitment to a safe, nurturing environment for their children. If a state requires licensing, it is mandatory; licensing requirements vary from state to state. ACA standards are recognized by courts of law and government regulators as the standards of the camp community.

How do ACA standards exceed state licensing requirements?
ACA goes beyond basic requirements for health, cleanliness, and food service into specific areas of programming, including camp staff from director through counselors, emergency management plans, health care, and management. ACA applies separate standards for activities such as waterfront, horseback riding, and adventure and travel.

What are some of the ACA standards that camps rely on?

  • Staff-to-camper ratios that are appropriate for different age groups
  • Training for staff to minimize 1:1 camper/staff interactions
  • Goals for camp activities that are developmentally based
  • Emergency transportation available at all times
  • First-aid facilities and trained staff available when campers are present
  • Staff appropriately trained to lead program

Does ACA accreditation require criminal background checks?
ACA accreditation standards require a staff screening system, which includes an annual criminal background check on all seasonal staff and at least every five years on year-round staff. When talking to a camp director as you consider enrolling your child, ask what the screening process for that camp includes.

In addition to the criminal background checks referenced above, ACA standards require additional staff screening which includes an application, interview and reference checks upon initial hire (along with a criminal background check); annual checks of the National Sex Offender Public website and an annual voluntary disclosure statement.  Staff training and staff/camper supervision are also critical to ACA standards. 

How can I verify that my child's camp is ACA accredited?
Parents can (and should) verify the accreditation status of any camp at any time by visiting ACA's Web site at www.ACAcamps.org or by calling 1-800-428-CAMP.

If your child's summer camp isn't ACA-accredited, ask WHY NOT?
Keep in Mind — Informed parents are best prepared to select a camp that meets their standards for staff, programs, safety, and facilities and strives to promote the welfare of every child.

How to Choose a Camp: Safety Tips

Accreditation
ACA Accreditation assures parents that the camp has had a regular, independent safety audit that goes beyond regulations in most states.

Accreditation is different than licensing.

  • Licensing, with surprise inspections, focuses on enforcement of minimum regulations - often in just sanitation and food service. Accreditation, with scheduled visits, focuses on education - supporting best practices in all aspects of camp operation
  • Licensing varies significantly from state to state. Accreditation standards and processes are nationally developed, tested, and accepted, both by camp professionals and legal/regulatory authorities
  • Licensing is required and imposed. Accreditation is voluntary. Camps that are accredited have demonstrated their commitment to providing safe and nurturing environments for children

To achieve accreditation, camps must demonstrate compliance with any mandatory standards applicable to their specific programs, as well as substantial compliance with an additional body of standards in eight operational areas that specifically address the delivery of a quality camp program.

  • Five operational management areas such as transportation, facilities and human resources
  • Three program areas such as aquatics and trips

No accreditation process, no licensing program, no set of regulations or laws can guarantee safety. However, accreditation is the best evidence for parents that a camp is committed to providing a safe and nurturing environment for their children.

Accreditation helps parents select camps that meet government-recognized best practices.

Parents can (and should) verify the accreditation status of any camp at any time. This may be accomplished through ACA's Web site at www.ACAcamps.org or by calling 1-800-428-CAMP.

Accredited by the American Camp Association

What does it mean?
The American Camp Association is the advocate for the accredited-camp experience. ACA Standards are continually revised and updated to reflect the needs of camps, the public, and the changing body of laws and regulations. The main purpose of the ACA-accreditation program is to educate camp owners and directors in the administration of key aspects of camp operation, particularly those related to program quality and the health and safety of campers and staff. The second purpose of ACA accreditation is to assist the public in selecting camps that meet industry-accepted and government-recognized standards.

Although many state and federal laws and regulations address basic sanitation and food service concerns, the ACA Standards go a step further in addressing the specific areas of programming, personnel, health care, and management practices. Separate standards are applied to activities such as aquatics, horseback riding, adventure challenge activities, and travel and trip programs.

ACA accreditation is the best evidence parents have of a camp's commitment to a safe and nurturing environment for their children. This voluntary accreditation assures parents that camp practices have been measured against national standards and go a step beyond a state's basic licensing requirements. Accreditation is based on a commitment by the camp to best practices.

ACA standards are recognized by courts of law and government regulators as the standards of the camp industry. The ACA accreditation program has a 60 plus-year history and is continually evaluated and updated to reflect current best practice in camps. ACA collaborates with experts from many fields such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross, and other youth-serving agencies to be sure required practices are current and sound. ACA standards are revised based on research in the public, legal, youth development, and camp arenas.

No environment is risk free. However, ACA camps voluntarily go through a rigorous risk management process to prevent illness or injury to campers-and to have solid crisis plans if an emergency does occur. Camp provides a supervised, positive environment with controlled boundaries to help children grow.

At least once every three years, an outside team of trained professionals observe the camp in session to verify compliance with applicable standards. The ACA has developed up to 290 standards that cover the various aspects of camp operations in eight specific areas.

  • Site/Food Service: Fire protection, maintenance, sleeping areas, bathing/toilet facilities, food service areas and practices
  • Transportation: Driver and vehicle requirements, traffic control, transportation safety
  • Health Care: Staff and facility requirements, medication management, required health information and recordkeeping
  • Operational Management: Safety and security regulations, staff emergency training, crisis communications, insurance, planning
  • Human Resources: Staff qualifications, training, ratios, supervision and behavior management guidelines
  • Program: Goals for camper development, orientation and safety policies for general and specialized programs, including aquatics, challenge courses, trips and horseback riding

Few fields combine such a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, as does organized camping. Camp directors are required to have expertise in very technical fields such as nutrition, food service, facility design and maintenance, risk management, marketing, personnel and business management. Being a camp professional also necessitates the blending of the principles of social group work, recreation, child development, physical education, health and wellness, psychology, and education. Camping provides the unique opportunity to integrate these disciplines by working with people in a stimulating outdoor setting.