After two sex assaults, Camp Green Leaves works to train staff and improve procedures

In the wake of two sexual assault cases in the last six years, Camp Green Leaves has created a 14-step improvement plan.

The five-week summer camp for youth with developmental disabilities has campers ages 5–22 and takes place at Lake Cammack Park and Marina.

On July 9, 2012, one camper, 12, assaulted another camper, 14. The offender was not identified for several reasons, one being age, Burlington Assistant Police Chief Brian Long said. This caused the camp to create new policies, one being that if a camper needs to use the restroom, a counselor will take the camper to the restroom. If more than one camper is using the restroom, the counselor will stand inside to make sure everything is OK.

On July 17, 2017, the camp failed to follow this procedure, and Markus Antwain Rogers Jr., 17 at the time, was charged with one count of first-degree statutory sex offense, and one count of taking indecent liberties with a minor. Rogers was believed to have assaulted a 9-year-old camper in the restroom at North Park Pool during camp activities when the two were unsupervised. The victim later told staff what happened. Rogers’ bond was set for $150,000.

One year later, the camp reopened with new policies and procedures for the 48 campers.

Chad Slaughter, the special project manager for Burlington, discussed the 14-step improvement program and how it was created to prevent such events.

“The staff did a really good job at making sure that all these [steps] happen and that we complied with the recommendations prior to the camp starting,” Slaughter said. “Overall, these are enhancements to make the camp more enjoyable and exciting, but more importantly, safer as well.”

Slaughter said the city had a third party conduct a causation analysis to see what could be done to make the camp better. This gave the city the 14 steps, which were divided up into three enhancement areas: foundational, structural and operations:


Burlington Recreation and Parks should engage the expertise of a therapeutic recreation specialist in the programming for special needs populations;
The programmatic cost share for Camp Green Leaves should be more inclusive to agencies outside of the city of Burlington;
A more direct, stronger collaborative partnership is needed with the Alamance-Burlington School System;
Burlington should conduct a needs analysis to reassess and re-evaluate programming for special needs populations;
Consolidate Camp Green Leaves into the department’s Programming Division instead of the Parks Facilities Division;
Camp Green Leaves should more integrally involve the public school system with the camper application and acceptance processes;
The city should conduct background checks on all qualifying campers;
Recreation and Parks should bolster counselor training programs in depth and scope;
Additional camp counselors are needed for Camp Green Leaves. This can be achieved by hiring substitute counselors, cross-training counselors from other Recreation and Parks camps, and tweaking the use of volunteers;
Additional resources should be put into counselor recruitment and compensation;
A more clear chain of command should be established within each group of counselors at Camp Green Leaves;
Special attention should be given to ages when grouping the campers at Camp Green Leaves, especially with those older than 15;
A comprehensive review of Camp Green Leaves policies and procedures is needed; and
Use the city’s existing system for immediate emergency notification for parents/guardians of all campers.

 

Enhancements (rules 1–5)

Slaughter explained one of the first things the city did was hire a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, on Feb. 28. The specialist, Brittany Hargrave, is now assistant recreation supervisor of Youth Programming and the Specialized Recreation Services Division.

“She was brought in to work specifically with Camp Green Leaves while it is in session, and the planning for it, but also beyond that whenever that is not in session,” Slaughter said.

Hargrave said this is her first time doing a camp like Camp Green Leaves, but she has done behavioral training before.

“Throughout school, we worked with kids with special needs. I am very familiar with this population,” Hargrave said. “This is my first time, and it is awesome. I love it.”

The cost share step came about when the city learned that most of the campers live outside the city limits.

“We had received over the years monetary contributions from the county to assist with Camp Green Leaves, so one of the things we did was ask for more monetary support, and the county came through with that, increasing their contributions this year,” Slaughter said.

ABSS also contributed $10,000 to the program. With this contribution came a stronger collaboration with ABSS, which reviewed Camp Green Leaves’ application process and made recommendations to the application.

Slaughter talked about how the city needed to reassess and re-evaluate what it was doing for the special needs population beyond the summer camp. The city provides several events — Spring League Bowling, Fun Fridays and Bingo Night — but plans to bring more to the table. Hargrave will be directly involved with this step, Slaughter said.

Consolidating Camp Green Leaves into the department’s programming division was a simple fix, Slaughter said, and this now strengthens the chain of command.

 

Operations (rules 6–14)

One of the bigger changes to Camp Green Leaves is the background checks.

Slaughter explained any campers age 16 or older are subject to background checks, which include primary record checks via a third party service that is already used by Recreation and Parks. Slaughter added that if a camper needed an assistant, the assistant also would undergo a background check.

Step 8, regarding Recreation and Parks’ bolstering the counselor training program, is another big change. Slaughter said the city brought in someone with the background and knowledge in working with special needs populations to train the junior counselors and staff in general. The training included recognizing certain behaviors and dealing with the behaviors appropriately.

“We also cross-trained our regular day camp counselors to be able — if we had a shortage of counselors in Camp Green Leaves one day and needed to bring somebody in, then we had somebody that was already trained to come in and they would know what to expect,” Slaughter said.

This step also regarded the proper 1:2 ratio of staff to campers.

“For every two campers that aren’t required to have one-on-one, there is one staff member for those two campers, assigned to those two campers all day,” Slaughter said.

One last important feature to Step 8 was that the camp reviewed and modified its policies and procedures and went over them with the camp counselors during training day. At the end of the camp program, the camp will undergo an after-action report of the program to see how the camp went, what improvements could be made, and what strengths the camp already has.

“Basically what we are establishing here is continuous improvement,” Slaughter said.

Moving on to the next step, Slaughter said in order to gain additional camp counselors, the camp is looking at hiring substitute counselors and cross-training counselors.

To maintain those counselors, additional resources should be included in counselor recruitment and compensation, including pay raises. Slaughter explained the city paired with Piedmont Triad Regional Council to conduct a pay study for the part-time counselors and assisted directors.

“It was recognized that we needed to increase the pay hourly rates, which was going to help us with both recruitment of qualified staffers but most importantly retention of qualified staffers,” Slaughter said. “We want to keep them coming back, too, and that is where this pay study is really important in doing that.”

For a clearer clear chain of command, the camp now posts an organizational chart for the campers and counselors. Camp Green Leaves now has one overall camp director, two assistant camp directors, senior camp counselors and junior camp counselors.

“This is really for the benefit of our junior counselors, the newer counselors that are coming in, and them getting into the program and knowing the program better,” Slaughter said.

Another major change for the camp is that the campers are now divided into two separate age groups. The first group is 5–12, and the second group is 13–22. This is where the two assistant camp directors come into play as one assistant director oversees the older group and the other oversees the younger group. The age groups are then further split: There are two sub-groups for the younger campers and three sub-groups for the older campers.

“There are times where they might have to come together for a group conversation or large group activity, or in the mornings when they are getting ready to deploy. But for all general purposes, there is that purposeful intent to keep those age groups separated,” Slaughter said.

Assistant Camp Director Joe Reinheimer, who oversaw the older group for Camp Green Leaves this year and has been a counselor for 13 years, said the age separation allowed for more supervision of the campers. He noted that the new steps have made the camp better.

“I think that is all for the better, especially the 1:2 ratio,” Reinheimer said. “I think it has been positive. We hear from the parents that they love the changes. They feel comfortable. For the most part, all of the changes have seemed very positive with the parents and everything. What is good for them is good for me.”

For Step 13, a new review of the policies and procedures was given to each camper and parent so they would know the rules and regulations of the camp.

The last step, regarding using the city’s existing system for immediate emergency notification, allows the camp to be able to send mass notifications to parents. The camp also purchased a dedicated cellphone for parent and staff contact if needed. Counselors also now use portable radios to provide more efficient communication.

 

Reporter Kate Croxton can be reached at kate.croxton@thetimesnews.com or 336-506-3078. Follow her on Twitter at @katecroxtonBTN.