It’s often heartbreakingly quick that we exhaust all the wholesome fun options at home and find ourselves reaching for electronic entertainment. For working parents, summer camps are essential child care from the moment the school and nurseries close.
When it comes to our ultimate priority as parents – the health and safety of our little ones, we are able to build trust over time with our chosen schools and nurseries. But how do we ensure that our small people are safe and well cared for when we leave them with camp providers? How are camps regulated and camp staff vetted? To get the best possible advice, we asked governing bodies, parents and camp providers for their thoughts and guidance.
Our first port of call was the KHDA in Dubai, where a spokesperson confirmed that for summer camps held in schools, the school itself carries ultimate responsibility for health safety and are required to use only those providers who have been vetted and approved by the KHDA.
School leaders are required to submit a detailed written application and gain approval from the KHDA well in advance of the camp opening. For nurseries, summer programme governance is overseen by the Ministry of Education and forms part of the nursery’s regular license application and approval process. Similar systems are in places with the authorities in other Emirates.
Matt Doran, of Gulf Star Sports confirmed this rigorous vetting process by saying:
“All holiday camps with Gulf Star Sports are approved by the KHDA (Dubai) and ADEK (for Abu Dhabi and Al Ain). In addition, we are approved by the UAE Ministry of Sports and Welfare.
"All our staff are recruited from our existing high quality coaching network here in the UAE. We are a British owned organisation, but have a network of some of the most talented sports coaches and specialists from all over the world. Whatever the background, we insist on a minimum of Level One Safeguarding (Child Protection) and First Aid for all staff present (both teachers and assistants). All our staff are legally entitled to work in the UAE and have police clearance to do so”.
We spoke at length to a number of parents, many of whom reported highly positive experiences with holiday camps, citing the opportunity for their children to try different activities and make new friends as important factors. As one Mum, Lucy, told us,
“We are fairly new to Dubai and at first, my son struggled to make friends at school. I wasn’t happy about putting him into camp, but as a working Mum I didn’t feel I had much choice. My worries were unfounded though - we put him into a sports focused Spring camp earlier this year and he made some firm friends who he still keeps in touch with. We will definitely be doing the same for summer and hoping for another well spent break!”.
The picture is not all positive however, with some parents reporting substantial failures in health, safety and safeguarding.
“I had booked my son into a camp at a well-known trampoline park for two weeks of last summer”, one Dad told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
“He really enjoyed it and loved the staff, however on two occasions in the first week we received phone calls asking where he was – after we had dropped him off! The staff had failed to record him on the register, despite him being dropped directly to his lead coach. This was obviously scary for us (not that he noticed!) and we eventually took him out a few days early as we just didn’t feel they had the right procedures in place. It was a shame as he was having fun but we just couldn’t relax while he was there”.
Another Mum (who did not wished to be named) had a frightening experience when her four year old son was placed on the wrong bus home after camp. Attending a multi activity day camp in Al Quoz, and due home in Mankhool at 2pm, he eventually arrived home at 5.30pm, more than three and a half hours late. She told our team:
“I was given a number to call but the bus helper refused to talk me, she was so scared of the consequences of this mistake. I was distraught and kept asking how they could possibly leave without being 100% sure of the numbers needed on each bus. My child being in the wrong place meant that the headcount was wrong on two buses – not just one! My son travelled to Sharjah and had to be brought back to me in a member of staff’s personal car. It was a terrible experience and I haven’t put either of my children into a camp since”.
So what questions should we as parents be asking to make sure that our chosen camp is safe and well managed?
Roshi Tandon is the CEO of the Chubby Cheeks Nursery group, who have nine nurseries across the UAE. Roshi had some excellent advice for parents:
"I would advise parents to do their due diligence and make sure that their chosen camp provider or nursery is using qualified staff and maintaining their regular staff:child ratios. With new children attending throughout the summer, each provider must make sure that their registration and dismissal procedures are 100% watertight. Members of staff trained in first aid must also be present. These are cornerstones of our summer programme provision at Chubby Cheeks Nursery".
Over in DIFC, Kieny Watts, Director of the well regarded Hummingbird Nursery and Preschool agreed that these ratios are all important:
"Staff ratios are a means to an important end - to make sure every child is given the attention they deserve and is treated as an individual."
Kieny went on to say that this same individual attention is vital whether in 'normal' term time or camp:
"This focus on ratios is unfaltering. It is imperative to have the flexibility to slow down or speed up the activity or learning to suit every child. When ratios aren't maintained, you lose this flexibility and impose the same pace on everyone. This is where accidents or mistakes can happen".
For parents wanting guidance on staff:child ratios, please check our guide - Staffing In Nurseries: What to Look for.
For children over 4, we suggest that parents look to the UK's most influential children's charity, the NSPCC for guidance. The NSPCC suggest the following metrics:
For camps that involve swimming, we would recommend parents confirm the swim qualifications of the instructors, and ensure that there are sufficient qualified staff present at all times. Children should never be left unattended in or near water.
What have your experiences of UAE summer camps been? Join the discussion, add a comment below, or on our Facebook page.