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How To Prepare Your Child for Safe Sleepovers, Camps & School Trips

“Mom. I’m gonna call u and ask u if I can go to a thing. Say no, k?”

When Jovanni Velez gets a text like this from her preteen daughter, she doesn’t ask questions. And when her phone rings a few moments later, she plays her part with conviction:

 No, I already told you, we have plans that day. Absolutely not. Okay, see you when you get home.” It’s a thirty-second exchange rooted in an entire childhood of open communication and carefully cultivated trust between mother and child. When Jovanni’s daughter needs help getting out of a situation that makes her uncomfortable, she knows she can trust her mom to have her backno questions asked.

When you aren't able to have "eyes on your child."

Child safety experts know how important it is for parents to have “eyes on their child.” The diligent supervision of a safe adult can be a powerful deterrent to all kinds of risk—including child sexual abuse and other adverse childhood experiences. And that diligence matters: childhood sexual abuse remains alarmingly prevalent, with at least 1 in 10 children experiencing abuse before their 18th birthday.

But as children get older and invitations to day-camps and away-camps, trips with community groups or sports teams, sleepovers and pool-parties pour in, parents arrive at a crossroads: keep their eyes on their child at all times…or allow them to participate in away-from-home experiences that have significant social and developmental benefits.

“My daughter was in Kindergarten and PreK during COVID,” says Jovanni, who is the Program Director at Family Support Line Children’s Advocacy Center, which serves child victims of alleged abuse and their families in Delaware County, PA. “I can see how the social isolation affected her, even now as a 10-year-old. I absolutely think that having those interactions with other children, that connection, is very important.”

Post-COVID, summer day and overnight camp attendance bounced back quickly, with parents and kids all hungry for space and new experiences.

“I can see how the social isolation affected her, even now as
a 10-year-old. I absolutely think that having those interactions with other children, that connection, is very important.”
Jovanni Velez
Program Director, Family Support Line CAC

Camps and other away-from-home experiences can help kids build confidence, make friends, learn important life skills, and define their independent sense of self—and provide parents with a much-needed break to focus on work, relationships, or self-care.

It’s safe to say that being away from home can be good—for kids and for grownups. But how can parents help make sure that being away from home is safe?

Keep the lines of communication open.

“My biggest priority is communicating with your child,” emphasizes Emily Urso, Anti-Human Trafficking Program Manager and Delaware County Task Force Coordinator at Family Support Line CAC. “That’s the top of the list, and if it was the only thing on the list, that would be okay with me.”

Jovanni agrees: “It’s important your child knows they can always contact you if they don’t feel comfortable, and a second person they can call if, for some reason, you don’t pick up. I’ve seen families who have a code word with their teens in case it’s awkward to ask for help when they’re with their friends.”

"Communicating with your child...that’s the top of the list—and if it was the only thing on the list, that would be okay with me.”
Emily Urso
Anti-Human Trafficking Program Manager and Delaware County Task Force Coordinator, Family Support Line CAC

Parents can take a proactive role by creating—and practicing—a communication plan with their children. Once they are old enough for overnighting, most children in our culture have a phone of some type, so your plan might involve explaining that, like Jovanni’s daughter, they can always text what they need before they call and trust you to follow through. You might work together to come up with a code word they can use in a phone call that means << Come get me now >> or a short text that results in an immediate pick-up, no questions asked.

As parents, we sometimes assume that our kids will automatically know they can call, but it’s best to talk about the plan—early, clearly, and often. That way, if and when the child finds themself in a stressful situation, there won’t be a decision to make or pros and cons to weigh. They’ll know exactly what to do—they can always call home, no matter what.

Know before they go where they’ll be, and who they’ll be with.

If you know about an event in advance, take the time to ask questions. “Families raise their children differently and expose them to different things,” says Jovanni. “As a parent, it’s important to be clear about what you want your child to be exposed to or not.”

For sleepovers, you might ask the supervising parent:

  • What are the boundaries in their household? (and don’t hesitate to communicate your own)
  • What rules do they have around internet access?
  • What TV or movies might the kids watch?
  • How, and by whom, will kids be supervised?
  • For teens, ask about other friends who might also come over, if a parent will be home, and if a curfew will be enforced.

For camps and trips, take time to get to know the organization your child will be traveling with. You might ask:

  • Do they require mandated reporter training for staff?
  • Do they conduct background checks before hiring?
  • Do they guarantee children are never alone in one-on-one situations with adults?
  • Will they be supervising groups of children to make sure there’s no inappropriate activity between kids?
  • What is the process if your child wants to contact home? Express your desire that your child be able to contact you at any time if they ask to do so.
Teach kids to trust their instincts, and speak up if something feels “off.”

“For young kids,” suggests Emily, “we teach that safe adults don’t ask kids to keep secrets.” Teach your child about consent, and that they can trust their “spidey senses” to let them know if something doesn’t feel right—and that you’ll trust them, too. “If something doesn’t feel right—whether to you or to your child—it’s okay to follow that instinct. We’d rather have them miss that one sleepover, even if in the moment it feels like the end of the world.”

“If something doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to say no,” agrees Jovanni. “You might have a little FOMO, but at least you were safe.”

"If something doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to say no. You might have a little FOMO, but at least you were safe."

And trusting your instincts isn’t just for self-preservation. “Sometimes instead of being victims, kids are witnesses to something that isn’t right,” Jovanni says. “The victim might not be willing to speak up right away. I tell my kids: ‘Even though it’s not happening to you, speak up!’ Be open, be aware of your surroundings at all times. Know who’s around you. Be observant.”

“In the work we do at CACs, we often see the worst-case scenarios. We see kids, unfortunately, after abuse has already occurred. People often ask how they can help, what they can do, and what I always come back to is: Be there for your kids. Talk to them. Be there for your nieces and your nephews and your neighbors or students or children’s friends. Let them know that they’re supported and that you’re there for them, even when they’re away from home.”

Follow up with kids when they come home.

Communication about being away doesn’t have to stop when kids get home. Instead of rushing to the next thing, take time to ask your child about their time away.

After a trip or overnight event, ask your child about their experience:

  • What were the best parts of your time away?
  • Did you learn anything new and interesting?
  • Any funny stories you want to share?
  • Did anything happen that made you feel sad, scared, or uncomfortable?

Don’t be alarmed if kids don’t want to talk right away—asking opens the door for them to come back and talk to you if needed, when they’re ready. And, if your child discloses that they or someone they know experienced abuse, make a report right away. In Pennsylvania, call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. For more information on signs of abuse and how to respond, visit What is Child Abuse?

With open communication, good questions, and intentionally curated trust, your kids can confidently explore all of the campfire stories, sleepover bonding, and away-from-home adventure that summertime offers, and you can feel assured that you’ve done all you can to prepare your kids for a safe and celebratory summer.

A summer full of lessons that help them grow, and good memories that can last a lifetime.

A summer rooted in the safety of knowing that someone who loves, trusts, and believes them is always just a text or a phone call away.

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