Step 6: Getting your license
This step specifically pertains to getting a license to run a camp in Massachusetts, but I'd expect it to be generally applicable.
Before you look into getting a license, though, you should make sure that you need one. It turns out that one of the main requirements for needing a summer camp license in Massachusetts is calling yourself a "summer camp". If you call yourself a "summer program", don't go hiking, horseback-riding, don't do archery, or swimming, you can get away without needing a license.
Look into your local city requirements, as well as the possible consequences of running an unlicensed camp. It is quite possibly not worth your time and effort. Especially during your first year.
Assuming, though, that you've decided to get a license (potentially a wise decision):
To start the process off, you contact the Department of Health and ask for the summer camp inspectors. You tell them that you are starting a summer camp and ask about how to get licensed -- they'll give you an application for a recreational summer camp license. The application primarily consists of writing up lots of plans as to what you'll do in the event of various potential emergnencies, like if a child gets lost or injured.
You'll need to find a medical advisor for the camp. Your camp will need a nurse, pediatrician, or doctor to approve any medical plans you submit as part of your license, and to be available to field questions over the summer. We have found this by asking the parents in our camp's extended community to recommend their child's doctors, and also by asking the city inspectors for what doctors other local camps have used. We've never had to pay the doctor for this -- they've been willing to do it for free or in exchange for a discount for their child to come to camp.
You'll also have to develop a fire evacuation plan and submit a copy to your local fire chief. The inspectors will tell you who specifically to submit this to.
All in all, it's pretty straightforward. I found Cambridge's health inspectors to be incredibly helpful when I was unclear about a particular plan, and they would often make recommendations or provide examples from previous license applications.
You'll generally have two site inspections -- one before camp starts and one during camp. The one beforehand makes sure that the space your is in good physical shape and is a chance for you to go over the background checks and medical records of your staff (see next step.) The second inspection makes sure that everything is running smoothly at camp, and the inspectors will also check that you have all of the necesarry medical information for your campers (your camp's health form and general physical information from their doctors.)
A helpful recommendation the inspectors have made is to have all medical information on note cards for field trips. The note card would be something simple: child's name, medications approved by parents, any special information (allergies, prescriptions, unusual medical conditions), and emergency contact numbers.
A copy of our first license application is attached here.