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Counselor Crackdown: Preventing summer camp sex abuse

(AP image)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) -- It's that time of year to sign your child up for camp or a summer sports. But experts tell ABC’s 7 On Your Side that parents should have a healthy amount of skepticism when handing their children over to strangers in light of recent child sex abuse cases.

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A number of teachers and coaches have been arrested in recent months on allegations of committing various sex crimes against children.

"It is a national crisis,” says Jennifer Alvaro

Certified sex offender therapist Jennifer Alvaro says as many as 1 in 4 girls, 1 in 6 boys will be abused before turning 18.

Alvaro says, "It is probably the biggest public health risk we have to our children."

Ron Harding's 16-year-old son Devon is autistic.

"I think people should be realistic that folks that want to abuse kids get into roles that put them with children, "says Harding.

Court documents allege Sharon Kui, a former middle school teacher in Montgomery County, groomed then sexually assaulted Devon. Authorities believe Kui fled the country. She hasn’t been heard from since. Harding speaks out now so other parents can catch warning signs he didn't see.

"If you are not closer to your child then these people are in an 8 hour period then they are going to get the upper hand on your child and they're going to win their trust, "says Harding.

Harding says know and spend time with your child's adult mentors so you can assess their trustworthiness. And make sure you know as much as possible about those adult mentors.

“The background check is going to keep real offenders who have already offended out but there are so many who have never been caught. That's the scariest part, "says Harding.

Numerous child safety experts say a background check that only looks at a sex offender registry is not enough. A national background check and a child protective services check are the gold standard. Also critical, training employees on how to spot abuse and instituting a code of conduct so employees are clear on how to act around children.

Brooke Salkoff runs Camp Easy, a website that connects parents with camps across the country.

Salkoff is a big proponent of the summer camp experience. "It exposes kids to new opportunities. It opens their eyes to new experiences and new friendships."

Solkoff suggests going with an overnight camp that is accredited by the American Camp Association, an organization with exacting standards.

"What does supervision look like? What are the ratios between counselors and campers?, "says Salkoff are among the many questions parents should be asking.

Salkoff and others say if you want your child's camp experience to be an enriching one steer clear of camps that get defensive when you start asking tough questions.

Alvaro says, "Do they have a good policy about two adults at all times? If it's a sleep away camp who is sleeping in what cabin? Who is in the showers with the kids? Are kids allowed to call home?”

ABC’s 7 On Your Side has gathered some valuable resources for parents interested in learning more about how to prevent child sex abuse.

National Child Abuse Hotline http://www.childhelp.org 1-800-4-A-Child

The District's Children's Advocacy Center: http://www.safeshores.org/

Child Sex Abuse Training: http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.6243681/k.86C/Child_Sexual_Abuse_Prevention_Training.htm

American Camp Association http://www.acacamps.org/child-health-safety/child-abuse

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