Does Staff Training on Camper Friendship Skills Make a Difference to Campers With Serious Illness?
Keywords:camp, staff training, friendship, youth outcomes, youth development
While an important developmental task for all young people is the formation of social support, youth with serious illnesses often experience barriers to making friends. In the youth development context of summer camp, there is interest in how camper-level outcomes might be influenced by setting-level factors. Further, while some research exists on camp staff training, no research exists on how the length of staff training might influence camper outcomes. The purpose of this study was to explore if campers’ self-reported friendship skills changed from a summer when staff received no specialized training in camper friendship skills, to a summer when staff received a 45-minute training, to the next summer when staff attended a 90-minute training plus a mid-summer booster session. The setting for this study was a seven-day residential recreational camp in the Northeast United States serving children with serious illnesses and their siblings. Approximately 80 staff members worked at the camp each year of the study. Campers completed the American Camp Association’s 14-item Friendship Skills scale in 2014, 2015, and 2016. No specialized staff training about camper friendship skills was offered in 2014. In 2015, a 45-minute session about how staff could promote camper friendship skills was provided to staff. In 2016, a 90-minute session about promoting camper friendship skills was provided, and a 20-minute booster session followed partway through the summer. The comparison of camper outcomes associated with a 45-minute friendship skills training for staff and no training for staff (N = 866) was significantly different (F1, 866 = 139.66, p < .001). This result is important because it provided evidence that intentional training affected camper outcomes. However, the comparison of camper outcomes associated with a 45-minute, 90-minute, and 90-minute plus 20-minute booster training for staff (N = 1,047) was not significantly different (F1, 1047 = .07, p =.94).This study provided evidence that each length of intentional training affected camper outcomes and informs us that the same goal for camper outcomes could be achievable using varying lengths of training. Understanding the effectiveness of training interventions of different lengths can inform how camps allocate training time and resources for different topics. While many camps aim to provide mid-summer booster sessions, this study showed that it might not be necessary to deliver additional friendship skills training as a mid-summer booster and camps could use that time for other topics. Research and practice implications are discussed for camp programming and staff training.
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