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Many summer camps facing tough decision

By Brandon Quinn
Staff Writer

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin is sponsoring a bill to amend a 2010 provision that creates a “social worker waiver.” The bill would allow summer camps to employ both nurses and social workers, as opposed to one or the other as the law allows now. Photo by Amanda Verrette.
May 07, 2012
With summer around the corner, members of the state Legislature are emphasizing the need for a bill that would rectify a law they say prevents youth camps from hiring the licensed health professionals needed to keep children safe.

As of 2002, when legislation was passed establishing the jobs of social workers, counselors and therapists as forms of licensed professionals subject to state requirements, there has been a conflict for summer camps and other human service providers that employ social workers in addition to a nurse or other registered health professional.

The conflict comes into play because of the way the State Education Department interprets the Education Law, say those trying to change the existing policy.

Advocates of a bill that would ease restrictions for summer camp employment, argue for its passage before the summer, because children participating in camps, particularly overnight or sleep-away camps, need access to both medical professionals and mental-health professionals. Photo by Gazette file.
The Education Law prohibits organizations from employing licensed professionals, "because they feel doctors shouldn't be supervised by non-doctors," according to the bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin.

Adding to the conflicting messages from state government, the Department of Health requires camps to have a proper medical professional on staff while children are present.

"As a result, the moment the licensure provision went into effect, thousands of social service and other organizations were violating the law merely by continuing to employ their own workers," according to an open letter written to Gov. Andrew Cuomo by 93 nonprofits who are in conflict of the law.

An attempt to rectify the conflict in 2010 created "social work waivers," allowing organizations to employ social workers despite their classification as licensed professionals.

Children like these, playing soccer at a summer camp in Bridgehampton, New York, would be denied access to either a health professional or a mental health professional if her bill isn’t adopted before this summer, according to Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. Photo by courtesy of The Art Farm.
But the waiver program is not sufficient, according to the undersigned groups, because of restrictions the State Education Department is placing on organizations restrictions that aren't stipulated in the law itself.

Such restrictions include a signed declaration saying the organization doesn't employ any other professionals other than social workers (despite the aforementioned DOH requirement for medical personnel), the home address and telephone numbers of all board members and written letters from any board members who possess citations for any sort of criminal offenses, including decades old civil disobedience charges.

The nonprofits contend while the first restriction is simply "unfathomable and illogical," the restrictions on board members are an invasion of privacy, especially for honorary board members who are often celebrities who wouldn't like their personal information readily available.

In the letter, the organizations write: "The waiver process was a well intentioned but grossly inadequate solution to a workforce and care delivery problem, and creates a number of serious problems and unintended consequences. In order to receive a waiver, [the Education Department] is requiring nonprofits to certify they do not employ other licensed professionals, but some nonprofits (like overnight camps) are required by law to employ health officials."

"Do we dismiss our valued social workers? Dismiss our nurses and risk children's health? Commit perjury on a signed government document? What is a man to do?" Ross Coleman, president of the New York State Camp Directors Association, asked during a May 1 press conference.

The bill (S.6466/A.9794) is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope and has 18 co-sponsors in the Legislature.

"From administering allergy medication to addressing a child's mental health, camps must be able to employ a licensed nurse, a skilled social worker and a mental health professional if [they] are to keep our kids safe and healthy while in their care. This is a no brainer," said Paulin of the bill, which she said has received no opposition.

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