Program Outcomes at a Resident Camp for Youth with Serious Illnesses, Disabilities, and Life Challenges

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Camping Magazine


In 2005, the American Camp Association (ACA) published the first large-scale national research project assessing the youth development outcomes of children who attend day and resident camps in the summer. Children between the ages of eight and 14 from 80 ACA-accredited day and resident camps participated in the study. Results indicated the camp experience was a positive influence on youth development in four domains: positive identity, physical and thinking skills, social skills, and positive values and spirituality. In addition, evidence showed that growth at camp was maintained over a six-month time period. Specifically, respondents indicated that camp helped them make new friends and get to know other campers who were different from them. ACA acknowledged that the camps included in the study did not serve children with developmental disabilities and suggested that future research investigate experiences and outcomes within this population (ACA, 2005).

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a theoretical framework that emphasizes internal and external assets designed to promote resiliency and healthy development in youth. It differs from traditional treatment approaches that focus on changing maladaptive behaviors by emphasizing the development of personal resources, supportive relationships, leadership ability, and community engagement (Lopez, Yoder, Brisson, Lechuga-Pena, & Jenson, 2015). Although the PYD framework has been used successfully to support at-risk youth, it has received only limited application in programs for children with chronic illnesses and disabilities (Maslow & Chung, 2013). Walker and Pearman (2009) reported that camps for children with chronic illnesses enhanced self-esteem, assisted with normalizing attitudes to illness, and promoted skills in self-care of disease. More recently, Gillard and Space (2014) argued that campers with chronic and serious illnesses benefit from camping experiences where they can make new friends, participate in new and enriching experiences, and receive medical support. A review of the literature also includes positive developmental outcomes from research studies organized by diagnosis such as cancer (Gillard & Watts, 2013).

The current study applied the PYD framework to residential camps designed to promote positive developmental outcomes for children with serious illnesses, disabilities, and other life challenges. The Young Camper Learning Scale and four measures from the Older Youth Outcomes Battery (Sibthorp, Bialeschki, Morgan, & Browne, 2013) were used to address the following research questions:

Do campers with serious illnesses, disabilities, and other life challenges experience positive developmental outcomes, as reflected by scores on the Young Camper Learning Scale and the Older Youth Outcomes Battery?

Are age, years at camp, and overall satisfaction with the camp experience associated with scores on the Young Camper Learning Scale and Older Youth Outcomes Battery, among participants with serious illnesses, disabilities, and other life challenges?