Summer Camps Prepare to Return in 2021; What Parents Should Know

Most kids' summer camps canceled their programs or moved to virtual formats in 2020 to combat the spread of COVID-19. A year later, as vaccination rates rise and case numbers fall, many summer camps are preparing to return to in-person operations this year. As parents consider enrolling their children in summer camps for summer 2021, they might have concerns ranging from ongoing COVID restrictions to child care background checks.

On May 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new “Guidance for Operating Youth Camps.” The CDC’s top recommendation is that parents should get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 “as soon as possible” to reduce the spread, including in summer camp environments. Though COVID vaccines were initially only approved for those 16 years old and older, they are now accessible to anyone 12 and older. For camps that 1) serve this age group and older kids, and 2) make sure “everyone is fully vaccinated before the start of camp,” the CDC has deemed it “safe to return to full capacity, without masking, and without physical distancing.” 

Camps serving kids younger than 12 or allowing unvaccinated children are encouraged to “layer multiple strategies” to protect those who aren’t vaccinated. Such strategies may include masking, social distancing, handwashing, and smaller class or group sizes.

Many parents rely on summer camps for multiple reasons. Not only do summer camp environments provide opportunities for kids to remain busy and stimulated during their summer vacations from school—and perhaps make friends or gain some educational benefit along the way—but parents also use them as child care during the summer months. Kids may get summer holidays, but parents still have to work, which creates challenges for child care that aren’t there during other parts of the year.

Summer 2020 put parents to the test by removing summer camp from the equation for many families. With that option coming back for 2021, parents may feel a sense of urgency to reserve their kid a spot at a summer camp before limited space runs out. Before they rush to make summer camp arrangements, parents should remember that COVID-19 is not the only potential threat that a child can encounter at summer camp.

A common assumption is that summer day camps and sleepaway camps must run child care background checks. Parents mistakenly believe that since background checks are required at schools and daycare facilities, they must also be mandated for summer camps. In truth, regulations depend on the summer camp, the organization or entity hosting that camp, and licensing factors.

For example, some summer camps are run by city or county governments or public schools that receive their funding from the state. These camps usually have strict state or local licensing restrictions, which incorporate camp counselor background checks or checks for other camp staff. The same background check requirements don’t always apply to summer camps run by private entities, including camps sponsored by local businesses or run by churches.

Just as parents should make sure that they know what to expect from COVID-19 restrictions at summer camps this year, they should remember to ask about background checks. Thorough camp counselor background checks are critical for finding red flags that might indicate risks to kids who attend the camp. Past convictions for child abuse, sex crimes, or other serious criminal activity are red flags that camp planners should look for when they run background checks.

At, we can work with summer camps to make sure that they have strong protocols in place for vetting employees and volunteers. From state and local background checks for criminal history to sex offender registry searches, we offer a variety of services that help organizations make the smartest hiring decisions possible.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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