« PreviousContinue »
YOUTH CAMP SAFETY ACT
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 1974
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
SELECT SUBCOMMITTEE ON LABOR,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10 a.m., in room 2175, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Dominick V. Daniels (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Daniels (presiding), Sarasin, and Peyser.
Staff members present: Daniel H. Krivit, majority counsel; Alexandra Kisla, clerk; and Yvonne Franklin, minority legislative assistant.
Mr. DANIELS. The Select Subcommittee on Labor will come to order.
This morning, we continue with our hearings on the Youth Camp Safety Act. I am delighted to welcome to this hearing this morning the Honorable Benjamin S. Rosenthal, a very able and distinguished member of Congress from the Eighth Congressional District of the State of New York. Mr. Rosenthal indeed is a very dedicated member of Congress, always taking a great interest in legislation which affects consumers and in this case affecting the youth of our Nation.
STATEMENT OF HON. BENJAMIN S. ROSENTHAL, A REPRESENTA
TIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Mr. ROSENTHAL. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I would, with your permission, ask that my statement be included in the record.
Mr. DANIELS. Without objection, at this time it will be so recorded. [The statement of Mr. Rosenthal follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. BENJAMIN S. ROSENTHAL, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify today on a subject that has been of immense concern to me for several years both as a member of Congress and as a parent-Youth Camp Safety. And I want to commend you for your sincere and vigorous efforts to protect our children.
Each summer, between seven and eight million children enjoy the adventurous life of being campers. For many families, including my own, this yearly excursion to summer camp has become a tradition, offering children an enriching and unique experience as they learn to substitute one lifestyle for another.
Their activities will range from back-packing through mountain passes to changing bed linens and washing floors. Some chores will be done grudgingly, perhaps, but done at the discretion and with the assistance of camp staffers who assume the responsibility of their care and safety. Too many camps and too many states have not met that responsibility.
Many conscientiously operated camps subscribe to health and safety standards of their own. The problem is that these are voluntary, generally lack enforcement provisions and are adhered to with differing degrees of enthusiasm by subscriber camps. Worse, only 28 states have even minimal regulations of their own, and of these only six have and enforce what can be considered adequate codes. One of the six, I am pleased to report, is my own state of New York.
This situation is simply not good enough. That is why I appear before you today to urge adoption of H.R. 1486, the “Youth Camp Safety Act." I am proud to be a sponsor of this bill (H.R. 8270, identical).
Eight years ago Senator Ribicoff first offered legislation to tighten camp safety requirements. The bill was introduced at the request of Mitch Kurman, whose one man crusade for camp safety began when his son drowned in a camp canoeing accident in Maine in 1965. The canoe David Kurman was in did not contain lifejackets. Since then, many more children have died needlessly while the Congress and the Administration have been debating the need for federal legislation in this area. The time for study is long past. We must act-and act decisively without further delay to stop the needless injury and loss of life.
The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare has consistently fought effective youth camp safety legislation, saying it was unnecessary, not enough was known about the problem and, anyway, it should be left to the states. In a 1968 report, HEW admitted to a gap in camp safety standards and its own general unawareness of this deficiency. It acknowledged that most states required absolutely no camp licensing or inspection, and that only half the states had any kind of regulatory programs at all. That some report cited favorably the various camp accreditation programs now in effect by the American Camping Association and other similar voluntary groups, but ad. mitted such programs place relatively slight emphasis on compliance with minimal safety codes.
When, in 1968, HEW claimed insufficient data to make authoritative judge. ment about pending youth camp safety legislation, the bill died. Legislation was resubmitted in each succeding Congress. In 1971 a minimum measure was enacted, authorizing the Secretary of HEW to determine the effectiveness of state and local camp safety laws and regulations, and the extent of preventable accidents and illnesses so as to determine the need for federal laws in this area.
This most recent HEW study was nothing more than a halfhearted literature search and mail questionnaire. Fewer than half the camps surveyed (3,343 of 7,861) bothered to respond. Results showed 25 deaths, 1,223 "serious" illnesses, and 1,448 injuries associated with camping in 1972. Even these figures are not adequate representations since, according to the HEW report. “there is no systematic or comprehensive monitoring of serious illness, injury and death.” This, especially in light of HEW's report that a quarter of a million children are involved in serious camp accidents each season, appears to contradict the Department's conclusion that "the incidence of illnesses, injuries and deaths in summer camps does not appear to be a severe threat to youths.” It would be tragic if we waited any longer for more disasters to motivate us into action.
One need only spend a short time at a summer sleepaway camp or on a youth travel program to know the potential threat to safety and health that most activities pose. Swimming and boating activities, athletics, hikes and camp-outs all may be hazardous to some extent. All questions of food supply preparation and distribution, all questions of adequate sleeping arrangements fire safety, water supply and sewerage, and health services become the responsibility of camp directors. Parents are almost helpless after they transfer the responsibility for their children's safety to camps; camps which ther cannot adequately evaluate. Given insufficient information, it is hard for parents to differentiate between rustic, though adequate and inadequate facilities.
Critics of the Youth Camp Safety bill have consistently downplayed the legitimacy of federal intervention in what they considered to be a state matter. yet H.R. 1486 gires individual states the opportunity to establish and implement their own regulations. In fact, it encourages them to do so by authorizing grants for this express purpose.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, youth camp safety is a subject I am vitally concerned with. I introduced legislation in this area as early as 1967, and have testified before this subcommitteeon at least two previous occasions. I have seen the number of accidents and deaths mount with each passing camp season. I feel grateful that the camping experience has been a positive one for my own children, but for too many other children it has been a horror. The obligation we have for the protection of our children in basic. Immediate passage of the “Youth Camp Safety Act" would lead to such protection.
Mr. ROSENTHAL. Perhaps I could direct a few remarks. First, I do want to commend you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee and Mr. Peyser for the leadership you have shown in this area, for the perspicacity that you have exhibited in pursuing this very important subject very candidly and very strongly.
It overwhelms me and I find it totally unacceptable and unable to comprehend and understand why the Congress and the public at large hasn't seen the urgency for the passage of youth camp safety laws. The situation is not getting better, it is getting worse. The situation warrants more attention today than it did years ago. In looking forward to this hearing this morning, I took note of the three other times I appeared before this distinguished subcommittee and I started thinking of why I feel more strongly about this bill today than I did on July 25, 1968.
In that testimony, I said the following, that my own daughter is a camper at Starlight, Pa. Of course, I am concerned about her safety. My other youngster is a camper at a day camp. About a week ago, he fell off a horse and landed on his head. Fortunately, it wasn't anything serious, but it could have been, and the fact is that it could have been was an absurd situation. I think at that time he was obviously much younger than he is today, but he was about 7 years old at that time. It was absolutely irrational for him to be, during the course of those camping proceedings, permitted to ride a horse without instruction, without preparation, without supervision. It is only a miracle that something didn't happen to him.
The point of that story is that the statistics cited in the rather flimsy—and I think that is too strong a word to describe the HEW report--doesn't tell the story at all. The story is 100 times what they have received from any of the voluntary reporting from the camps. At another time, this same youngster who had no particular propensity for unsafe situation subsequent to the horse situation went to a day camp here in Washington, and they took them down the Potomac in a canoe. Maybe again they were 8 or 9 years old. I guess in some way this is a reflection on our ability to pick camps. I suppose it is. But these little boys and girls down on the Potomac in the canoe defies the imagination.
When we found out about it at the end of the day, we were just grateful that this kid and his colleagues were still with us. Why people in these camping situations do these things is interesting. It has all to do with economics. Both in day camps and in sleepaway camps, they don't have the financial wherewithal, or don't choose to have it. of building appropriate facilities. So what they do frequently is appropriate public facilities.
They take the children on bus trips, intellectually presumably stimulating trips, canoe trips and things like that. Look what happened with Mitch Kurman's son when they took him out in a canoe trip in northern Maine and Canada. The story goes on and on and on. There isn't a person or parent I know that hasn't listened with great attentiveness and disbelief to the stories they hear.
As you know well, there are only six States that have any kind of laws of any significance. While I am grateful that the State of New York does have a law, this youngster of mine who has had these other experiences now goes to a camp in Pennsylvania that doesn't have such laws. I am deeply concerned about his safety and the safety of his friends and associates.
I testified again on May 15, 1969, and July 21, 1971. I stood with you on the House floor when we proceeded on more than one occasion. The time has come for the passage of this very significant, important. This isn't to say that in the priorities of this Nation there isn't equally important or more important legislation. But there are 7 million youngsters a year involved in some kind of camping activity with overwhelmingly inadequate supervision, with the designation of young people of 16, 17, and 18 as counselors. We go to such extremes to protect our daily lives and activities with the Food and Drug Administration and all the other things HEW does, and then come summer and the average American family, at least some resembling in the numbers of millions, take their youngsters and turn them over to a bus and a counselor on the bus and they frequently may not see them from 4 to 6 to 8 weeks. They turn over the safety and well-being of that child to people who are generally, in many cases, inexperienced and without any kind of licensing arrangements, without any safety precautions, without any building code supervisions.
It overwhelms me that parents such as myself and others have this ability to, at the end of the school term, to breathe a sigh of relief and to lead that voungster to this unknown, forboding scenario. It defies my ability to even analyze my own conduct in situations like that.
I have examined camps where my children have gone. While I find they are generally good, I am sure they have many deficiencies and inadequacies. Somewhere along the line, the time has come when the lives and well-being and safety of 7 million youngsters needs considerably more attention than what we are doing now. We are making great efforts to make sure they don't have an excess amount of vitamins or the drugs they take are efficacious. But the presumed counselor who takes them on a canoe trip, what are his qualifications? Where is the regulations that tells him the youngsters have to wear life preservers? Where are the regulations that people who have passed a swimming test can go on canoe trips down the river? The Kurman youngster was not the beginning, it was just one that received great attention in the history of these things.
I only want to suggest again, Mr. Chairman, the bill you have introduced with your colleagues on this subcommittee is an important, significant, and meaningful piece of legislation. It is adequate action. It appropriates a reasonable amount of money to stipulate our States to do things they should have been doing years ago. I
would urge you and all of us certainly it is presumptuous of me to say that you need any further ironing, that we promptly report out this legislation and that we urge our colleagues to take account and cognizance of the seriousness of this situation. It isn't any lighthearted matter.
While the camps say there are only 25 serious deaths or injuries a year, my own suspicion is the figure is many times that. The HEW deserves D+ for that report that they submitted to this committee.
Mr. DANIELS. Mr. Rosenthal, on behalf of the committee, I want to thank you for your comments this morning. I wholeheartedly agree with you and welcome your support for this legislation as you have given it in the past. The things which you have experienced with your own child at camp can be multiplied thousands upon thousands of times. Fortunately, in your case, your child did not meet with any serious accident. But serious accidents have happened because of the lack of minimum standards and rules and regulations with regard to the expertise of the counselors who are employed in these camps.
As you have pointed out in your testimony, many of them are youngsters, some of them are students or enrollees at the camp by paying their way. They are employed by the camp. They have absolutely no knowledge of swimming, canoeing or the areas where they bring these children for a picnic. Some of them have no driver's license, yet they drive vehicles upon the camp ground as a result of which these children are exposed to dangers of which the parents are totally unaware. Now, of course, many parents do not have an opportunity to visit the camps to which they send their children. They rely entirely upon the beautiful, picturesque brochures which describe a picture entirely different from the actual physical situation that may exist at a camp. Even if they were to visit a camp, there are many hidden dangers which are not viewable by the naked eye.
I have labored in this field, as you very well know, for the last 6 or 7 years. The Mitch Kurman case you refer to is a case which aroused my interest. I have sent my own children to camp when they were young. But in my case, when I decided to enroll my children in camp, the camp owner came to my home to check on our home environment before they accepted our child. That is a reverse situation. It is probably an unusual situation, but I was verv, very pleased and happy that I sent my children to camp and pleased with the camp that thev attended. But, as I said, that was an unusual situation. I doubt if many camps do that.
The American Camping Association has done a fine job in this field. There are anproximately 10.000 camps in this country to which approximately 10 million children attend each summer. But only 4.000 of those camps are accredited. But you say there is a gap somewhere around 6.000 camps that we have no report on or no idea as to how safe or unsafe they may be. So this morning I welcome vour appearance here and appreciate vour continued interest in this legislation. Hopefully, we can get a bill out before the end of this session, and I welcome your support.