The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services Children’s Unit developed, funded and has administered a summer camp program that began in 1998 and has continued for the past five years. This program was designed to provide normalization for children with mental health diagnosis during the summers that were neither education nor treatment oriented. The camps would allow the children to socialize with peers, participate in recreational activities and have fun in a non-therapeutic environment.
Prior to 1998 children with mental health diagnosis had only one option, therapeutic summer camps. If this was not possible because of limited availability, they frequently did not attend any camp because they were not often accepted and parents did not always have the funds to pay for an entire summer program. The children’s unit strongly felt that children with a diagnosed mental illness, who may have behavioral problems in a highly structured environment such as school or a partial hospital, might thrive and grow in a less structured program.
This program promotes strong partnerships between the behavioral health system, child/family advocacy groups, mental health provider agencies and community summer camp providers. The parents and children can choose any camp they like for as many weeks as are available. The advocates helped to develop, disseminate client surveys to assess the quality of the camps and the child/families satisfaction with the programs, as well as surveys for the camp directors to determine their experiences with the program.
The provider agency case managers make all referrals to OMH; complete all referral paperwork and assist families in deciding which camps best suit their needs. The behavioral health system funds each child up to $400 per summer, coordinates payment with the camps, and monitors the appropriateness of the camps along with the advocates. This program has grown from sending less than a dozen children to camp in 1998 to sending over 1275 children to more than 85 camps in 2019. In 2020, COVID prevented this program to run at its full capacity sending only 173 children to 32 camps.