Camp Criminals

(WSVN) - Summer camp is in full swing, but who’s looking out for your kids when they’re away from home? The Nightteam’s Brian Entin shows us what’s being done to keep children safe from “camp criminals.”

Before thousands of children spend their days at summer camps across South Florida, the people responsible for looking out for them are supposed to be screened.

David Gindy, founder of Funcamps: “It’s finding out a little history about them, where they worked. We do check on that.”

Florida law requires camps to do criminal background checks.

Petyl Oflazian, assistant state attorney: “Doing the criminal background check can reveal arrests, dispositions, convictions.”

But there is no state system in place to make sure all camps are screening employees.

In fact, Florida’s Department of Children and Families on its website “reminds parents to be cautious while looking for safe summer camps,” telling parents to “ask specific questions regarding staff background checks!”

Petyl Oflazian: “I think, sometimes, parents think that if they’re sending their child to a camp, that the person they’re dealing with is always screened.”

And parents have a reason to be concerned. In 1997, James Melton Jr. molested several children while working as a church camp counselor in Martin County. The crime could have been prevented if the church camp had done a background check and discovered his prior sex offenses.

It took Florida lawmakers nearly 20 years after that case to pass a law requiring screenings at all camps.

Alessandra Williams, Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation: “Fingerprint-based background check, through the volunteer and employee criminal history system.”

Government-run camps in Miami-Dade and Broward County are under different rules and have to prove they have done the checks, and both counties have strict rules about who can work near children.

Alessandra Williams: “If they’re classified as a sexual predator or sexual abuse, they can’t work here at all.”

Kidworks USA in Hialeah is a private school-run camp. They encourage parents to ask who is in contact with children. And the answer is … they use teachers who have already had extensive screening to run the summer camp.

Janet Mash, director of Kidworks USA: “They cannot set foot inside our school unless their background check is clear.”

Another good source for parents is to check whether a camp is accredited through the American Camp Association, which will only give accreditation if a camp can prove background checks are conducted.

David Gindy: “We are one of the only accredited camps, actually, in Dade County.”

DCF has a searchable list of camps who have performed checks. Reporting is voluntary, so you may not find the one you want.

Brian Entin, 7News.

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