Summer vacation is right around the corner, which for many families means summer camp. But choosing which camp to attend can be a problem, because there are so many kinds, ranging from art camp and science camp to karate or horse camp.

Summer vacation is right around the corner, which for many families means summer camp. But choosing which camp to attend can be a problem, because there are so many kinds, ranging from art camp and science camp to karate or horse camp.

The choice is made even more difficult because of worries over the quality of care children will be getting. Many parents are surprised to learn that summer "camps," which are often used as a childcare alternative during summer break, are not usually licensed by the state, nor are they required to be.

Summer programs providing fewer than 70 calendar days worth of specific care are not required to obtain a license or follow usual child-care laws when providing summer programming, says Henry Oliva, central region manager for the state Childcare Division.

"Some regulated places do offer camp, however it's not the norm, and often times places that are certified during the school year ... will offer a different summer program," Oliva says.

With fewer legal guidelines in place for summer camp providers — though few complaints have been recorded on providers in the Rogue Valley, Oliva says — parents are left to do their own homework.

First and foremost, feel free to ask if a facility is licensed to provide a summer camp experience. If they are not licensed by the state, inquire about possible certification or accreditation programs. Examples are certifications bestowed by the American Camping Association or Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Gary Taylor, camp coordinator for the Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford, says the nature of the program, which visits local parks, the pool at the Y, and other facilities, would be difficult to license according to state standards for on-site care. The YMCA's summer program operates according to state standards and boasts the national YMCA standard of care.

"We actually operate as certified, but are not certified, so we can continue to do activities like use slip and slides and go swimming," Taylor said. "We recognize and meet standards, obviously, but our summer program is not a facility-based program and it's hard to certify a field or a park."

Aside from knowing pricing, fees, locations and ensuring the camp is a good match for your child, it's good to "interview" the director and staff providing care, says Lisa Whittier, a consultant for the Oregon Job Council's Child Care Resource Network of Oregon.

Ask what experience the staff has in dealing with children the same age as yours, what qualities are sought in employees of the program, and types of background checks that are done on new hires, Whittier recommends.

"A lot of time, summer camps will employ teenagers with absolutely no experience or training and sometimes they can take on an older sibling attitude which is not necessarily helpful," Whittier points out.

Ask for references of other parents who have used the program, and ask about issues that could arise, such as behavioral or dietary issues and how the facility would deal with out-of-the-norm situations.

Good counselor-to-child ratios are about one to 10 for younger camps and one to 15 for teens and preteens, who are more likely to be in a program for the experience than for supervision.

"It's important you find out the things you hope won't come up," says Whittier. "Ask questions like, 'What do you do if my child digs their heels in and says I'm not going to participate'? Are they proactive in giving them choices? What is plan B?"

Parents also need to be honest in assessing their child's personality and abilities when matching them with a camp, Whittier says.

"A lot of times parents don't think of their own child's temperament when they plunk them into a camp. For example, you wouldn't want to send a hyper child to art camp or drop a shy child off at horse camp. You want to consider your child as well as the camp and the people running it.

"Obviously we can't live with our children in a bubble," Whittier adds. "We've got to get our kids out there, but it's important to check things out first. And references are good!"

To check on complaints for licensed centers, visit online, www.emp.state.or.us/ccd-complaints.

For advice about childcare and details on childcare providers, visit The Oregon Child Care Resource and Referral Network's Web site at www.oregonchildcare.org.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.