Do Summer Camps Have to Disclose Suspected Abuse?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 02, 2015 12:55 PM

Summer is here, and many parents will be dropping their kids off at camp for a week or two. Parents trust camps with their children's safety, and a California court has ruled that relationship creates a duty for camps to disclose suspected molestation by camp employees.

The case involved allegations of sexual misconduct by Keith Edward Woodhouse during his time at the Camp on the Hill, a summer camp for first through sixth graders. Despite reports that Woodhouse may have molested a young female camper, the camp never informed the girl's parents. The court found that, because camps sit "in loco parentis," they owe a duty to report suspected abuse to parents.

Camp Horror

Allegations of misconduct followed Woodhouse his entire career at the Camp on the Hill, and First Baptist Church of San Jose who ran the camp. He was hired to provide child care at a school run by the camp in 2003, but fired in 2004 for "inappropriate interactions with young girls." Woodhouse was re-hired in 2006 and re-fired in 2007 following another incident that gave rise to this case.

At no time did the camp or the church tell any parents about the incidents, nor did it report them to police. Instead, "Parents learned about the 2007 incident in 2013 through the San Jose Police Department's investigation of allegations that Woodhouse molested other children. The police interviewed minor in approximately January 2011, but the Complaint alleges that parents were not told minor was a victim (as opposed to a witness) until April 2013."

In fact, over that time the church actually recommended Woodhouse for another child care position, where he may have molested another 30 children.

What Does This Mean for Parents?

The court was clear that camps must disclose allegations of misconduct to parents of the children involved. What is less clear is if camps owe the same duty of disclosure to other parents who either have already enrolled their kids in camps or are considering it.

Parents should do extensive research on any camp before enrolling their children. They should also talk frankly with their children. Before children go to camp, parents should make sure their kids are aware of sexual abuse, and let their kids know what kind of touching is appropriate and what kind is not. And parents should also follow up when their kids return from camp and remind them that it is always fine to talk with them without fear or shame.

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