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Report: Connecticut camps with complaints often unpunished

November 26, 2021 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, which licenses youth summer camps across the state, is often unable to substantiate complaints from camp staff and parents that can range from children being left unattended to instances of inappropriate touching, according to a review of state records.

Many of the cases are closed without the agency taking action, according documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Hearst Connecticut Media Group. Hearst reviewed 112 complaints against summer camps filed with the state office between 2015 and 2020. In most instances, camps are required to sign onto a plan for fixing any license violations and preventing a similar problem from recurring.

Debra Johnson, director of the Office of Early Childhood licensing division, said investigators follow guidelines that provide only a narrow scope for what wrongdoing they can look for. With no formal, written guidelines for substantiating a claim, she told Hearst that investigators make decisions on a “case-by-case basis,” using their own judgment. Johnson said the agency’s main focus is enforce state licensing requirements.

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The office licenses more than 400 camps in Connecticut.

Hearst’s review did not find any instance when a camp’s license was suspended or revoked. There were four consent orders or formal disciplinary agreements reached with camps which Johnson said “may or may not have included a condition of probation.”

In some cases, other authorities, including the police or the Department of Children and Families, may be notified about complaints at camps.

“But we are very focused, and we only have the authority to cite a violation of our regulations. So that’s where our focus is,” Johnson said.

This summer, Camp Shane, a children’s weight-loss camp in Kent, voluntarily surrendered its license following a joint investigation by the Office of Early Childhood and the Department of Children and Families that stemmed from “concerns about health, safety and well-being of children enrolled at the summer youth camp.”

The agencies determined the camp falsified medication administration training documents and had issues with missing campers, among other problems. The owner called the violations minor and said he closed the camp due to staffing issues.