A large city is not an ideal place to raise children. Safe places for running and playing are rare these days.
Even the simple act of crossing a busy street to reach a playground frequently leads to death or injury. Children who play or ride bikes in city streets are in constant danger.
One reason a parent pays to send his child to a summer camp is to get the child away from the dangers of an urban environment. Unfortunately, however, some 250,000 children are injured in camp accidents each year, and the question has arisen: How many of these accidents can be related to a lack of safety standards or to insufficiently trained camp personnel?
A House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Joseph M. Gaydos (D-Pa.) has been hearing testimony about injuries and the lack of safety standards because the subcommittee has been considering the Gaydos-Sarasin Youth Camp Safety Act. The bill would appropriate less than $8 million to set safety standards for summer camps and to encourage the states to pass safety legislation of their own. Most of the money would be given to states to help them set up their safety programs.
Similar proposals have been studied by the Congress and by HEW for more than 10 years, and last year a bill passed the House but died in the Senate. It was hoped that when the Carter administration came to power with its avowed emphasis on humanitarianism, the White House would get behind the move to upgrade camp safety.
But when the time came last month for HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano to tell the subcommittee where the Carter administration stands on the Youth Camp Safety Act, Califano was a no-show. He sent word that HEW needed a little more time to ponder this complicated issue.
On Thursday of last week, HEW finally sent a deputy assistant secretary to reveal HEW's decision to the subcommittee. C. Grant Spaeth announced to the congressman that (are you sure you're ready for this?) HEW would like just a wee bit more time to study the question. Like another year. Then maybe the 1979 legislative package can include something on camp safety, and the safety program might actually begin in 1980. Or perhaps 1981. Another stall from HEW!
The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Ronald A. Sarasin (R-Conn.), told Spaeth that if something isn't done quickly to upgrade camp safety, another 1,000,000 children will be injured in camp accidents and about 100 more will die during the years of delay.
Sarasin said, "I am extremely disappointed at what is tantamount to an effort to kill youth camp safety legislation through still further study of this already over-studied problem."
Sarasin added, "I cannot stress strongly enough that we are not talking about a brand new subject. For the past 10 years, we have been reviewing case histories, testimonies and reports from various groups.
"Your requested delay means that once again the federal government is placing the well-being of our young campers at the bottom of the list."
On Friday, the day after Spaeth's announcement of HEW's non-position, the subcommittee met again and decided to go forward with the measure, with or without HEW's blessing.
Changes were made in the bill to add a "sunset" provision that will terminate the program in five years unless Congress takes positive action to continue it, and to make sure there is no interference with the religious activities in church-affiliated champs.
Now it's going to be up to the White House to decide whether it really wants a confrontation with Congress on an issue of this kind.
In recent days, newspapers have been filled with information about the energy crisis, and Washington reporters have therefore taken little note of less important problems. However, the Gaydos subcommittee thinks that injuries to a million children are important enough to justify action, and I suspect that millions of American parents will side with the Congress on this issue.