The Heritage Foundation

Issue Bulletin #11

June 7, 1977

June 7, 1977 | Issue Bulletin on

Federal Regulation of Youth Camps (H.R.6761)

(Archived document, may contain errors)

June 7, 1977



H.R. 6761, the "Youth Camp Safety Act," has been reported out of the House Education and Labor Committee and is now pending before the House Rules Committee. Floor action may come within days.


H.R. 6761 would create a Federal Advisory Council on Youth Camp Safety and an Office of Youth Camp Safety within HEW. The first of these agencies would promulgate Federal standards for state youth-camp safety regulations. The second would impose regu- lations directly on those states which fail to create regulations of their own which meet Federal standards. The Office of Youth Camp Safety would also be empowered to monitor and enforce com- pliance with both state and Federal regulations by means of in- spections, reports, and fines. This regulatory apparatus would apply to all "day camps, residential camps, troop camps, travel camps, and trip camps" in the nation.


Supporters of this legislation have used one major argument: Since every lost child is irreplaceable,any amount of Federal interven- tion is justified. If all the dollars and man-hours required pre- vent just one death, the whole regulatory effort will have been worth it.


Opponents of this legislation have made the following points:

(1) In point of fact, the trade-off is not between dollars and death but between the deaths (and injuries) of some children and the deaths of other. Even if one assumes that H.R. 6761. NOTE: Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Heritage Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress.

would prevent some of the deaths which the nation's youth camps, one must also reckon with the fact that the death rate is appreciably higher outside camps than in them.

One must realize that compliance with regulations neces- sarily involves a cost in time and money -- not just to the government and taXDayers but to the persons and agencies who are being regulated. Just as OSHA regulations have increased the cost of manufacturing, youth camp regulations will increase the cost of operating a camp. Since the nation's camp operators are not endowed with infinite resources, one effect of H.R. 6761 will be to diminish the number of children they can serve. Children who would otherwise have been able to go@to camp will have to stay home.

"Home," of course, meaus backyards, streets, and play- grounds -- not just the kids' bedrooms. One would naturally expect death rates to be higher in such unstructured environ- ments than in the supervised regime of a summer camp. According to HEW and the National Safety Council, this expectation is en- tirely correct. Here are the numbers:

Child Deaths

Youth Quantity Rate Source

34 million 8,102 Deaths One Death per National children age 218)228 Safety Council 5-14 child weeks

639,673 2 Deaths One Death per 1975 HEW child weeks 319)836 Study of in youth camps child weeks 347 camps in studied Pa.,.Fla.,Wash.; 1973 HEW Century Study of 128 camps; Boy Scouts of America 1973-1976; NOTE: Death rate too low to be statis- tically signi- ficant

7,200,000 25 Deaths One Death per HEW estimate child weeks 288,000 All Youth Camps child weeks

When one calculates injuries as well as deaths, the superior safety of youth camps is even more marked. Here are some more numbers:

Youth Quantity Rate Source

34 million 16,874,000 One injury per National children age injuries 105.2 Safety Council 5-14 child weeks

347 One injury per 1975 HEW Study Youth camps 1,190.5 of Youth child weeks Camps in Pa., Fla., Wash.

128 One injury per 1973 HEW Youth camps 1,428 Century Study child weeks

729,000 3,726 injuries One injury per Testimony be- boy weeks 195.65 fore sub- Boy Scouts boy weeks committee of America OTE: BSA de- finition in- :ludes minor injuries while pthers do not.

These numbers have simple and clear implications. if chil- dre.nare forced by rising costs to give up organized camping, they are being transferred from a less hazardous situation to a more hazardous one. H.R. 6761 makes it harder for kids to gain access to one of the safest environments they ever enter. It may diminish risks for the ones who are lucky enough to stay in camp, but it definitely increases the risks for others. . There is, of course, no fool proof way to predict exactly how many children will suffer death or injury because this legis- lation kept them out of camp -- just as there is no way to pre- dict how many de-a-tFs and injuries at camp the legislation would prevent. It is, therefore, imposs-iFle to know whether H.R. 6761 would on net balance diminish the-death rate or increase it. What is certain, however, is that this legislation redis- tributes risks among different classes of children. Those whose parents could still afford the increased costs of camping will presumably be safer. Some children from lower-income families will also be safer -- -t-7a-t is, those children whose costs chari- table agencies like the YMCA can still cover. The YMCA will, of course, have to divert some money from subsidizing such children to meeting the costs of complying with the regulations. The children who are shut out of camping will therefore tend dispro- portionately to be lower-income children. Like it or not, H.R. 6761 is class legislation. It makes life safer for middle and upper- income children bymakin' more dangerous for the children of the poor.

(2) H.R. 6761 will also have an adverse environmental impact, though no one has yet tried to estimate how significant this im- pact will be. The tentative regulations already drafted by HEW would require detailed advance reports on specific activities like overnight hikes. A Scoutmaster who decided to take his troop up to the mountains for a weekend would actually have to file an itinerary in advance. This paperwork nuisance would en- courage consolidation of trips: The Scoutmaster would find it advantageous to plan a single expedition for his whole troop rather than several separate hikes for the several small patrols within his troop. As any forest ranger can tell you, big groups do more damage to the environment than smaller ones: Environmentalist- societies like the Sierra Club encourage hikers and backpackers to think small because fragile wilderness eco-systems are easily damaged by saturation. The HEW regulations would actually forbid one-man expeditions by individual Scouts trying to meet the re- quirements for Eagle rank. Many hikers would rather not enter the woods at all than do so as part of a mob. Those who do not feel this way are usually the ones who are least sensitive to environmental values and most apt to do damage.

(3) Youth camps are already heavily regulated. A camp operator in North Carolina points out that he has to report to six Federal agencies and twelve State agencies which monitor health, sani- tation, fire safety, and other aspects of his operation. He also has to meet the regulations of his insurance companies. (4) Behind this legislation lurks a philosophical question: Are we trying to mandate a risk-free society? The average per- son suffers an injury of some kind once every two years as he passes through childhood and adolescence. (If he spent all his time in-a Boy Scout camp, this rate would fall to one injury every four years.) The only way to prevent all those injuries would be to lock everyone into his bedroom at birth: We would achi.eve total safety at the price of abolishing childhood.

Lawrence Uzzell Policy Analyst

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