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HomeOur ProgramParent/Guardian FAQ

We know you probably have lots of questions, and we're always here to help. We've answered some of the most commonly asked questions below. Please feel free to call our office at 978-637-2617 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. anytime for assistance. 

What are the age parameters for attendance?

Starfish offers programs with varying age requirements, though in general we serve campers ages 6-17.

Six year-olds are eligible only for specific, 5-day/4-night programs. Most of our campers enter Starfish programs between the ages of 7-14. First-time teens age 15+ are welcome to apply to our older programs, but spaces for first-time campers in this age group are very limited. Additionally, some older teens who have not attended a camp before may find it hard to first experience the structured setting of Starfish at an older age. 

We recognize, of course, that chronological age is only one factor in how a person interacts with others. We do have many campers who are "13 going on 10" in their social interactions. Typical examples parents/guardians give us include a 14 year old boy who is most socially appropriate when playing legos with 10 year olds in the neighborhood or a 12 year old girl who still carries a stuffed animal around daily. We also have younger campers who, by nature of their life experiences, may present as significantly older than their actual age. 

For camper applicants who have a significant difference between their chronological and functional age, we recommend that you call and speak with us prior to applying so we can decide together which programs are appropriate for your camper. We make every effort to create bunk groups based on both chronological and social age, and a significant amount of our programming incorporates practicing social skills which requires campers to be grouped so as to facilitate that curriculum. Additionally, our program is small and not designed to host a developmentally-delayed 17-year old functioning at an 8-year old level, for example. Much of the decisions in this area about camp attendance are subjective and also rely on factors including social development, physical development, behavior, attitude, and willingness to participate in camp. We are happy to talk with you further about any of these areas of determination. 

Is a 1-to-1 ratio the same as a 1-on-1 ratio? (No.) Which is Starfish?

Camp Starfish's traditional programs provide a 1 "to" 1 (also known as 1:1) staff-to-camper ratio. This means that there are as many adults as there are campers - and at Starfish, there  are actually more staff than campers, because even when our staff have time off, we still maintain our ratios. Some camps include "site staff" like cooks, nurses, maintenance staff, etc. in their ratios. Starfish does not. We have direct-care staff in a 1:1 ratio with campers, plus directors and all the others who make camp run smoothly. As far as we know, there are only a couple full-summer camps in the entire country that use a true 1:1 ratio like Starfish to provide camp for children with emotional, social, behavioral and learning challenges. We do because we firmly believe that it enables us to offer an exceptional level of care and help children find success.

Examples of our 1:1 ratio include:

  • In a cabin, each camper sleeps on a bottom bunk and has a staff member on the top bunk above him/her
  • A cabin group of 5 boys will have 5+ staff assigned to that cabin
  • In the dining hall, we sit camper-counselor-camper-counselor around the table
  • If 6 campers are going on an overnight camp-out, at least 6 staff will also be camping with them

One "on" one is different. Starfish is NOT 1 on 1. One-on-one means that a specific child is assigned a specific adult for the duration of their experience. An example of a one-on-one (often called an "aide" or "inclusion specialist" or even a "staff buddy") would be if Camper John arrived on the first day of camp and was introduced to Counselor Seth, and the two were "paired" together for the entire session. Wherever John goes, so goes Seth. Seth is specifically responsible for John, even if Seth and John often join up with other "pairs" for activities. 

Starfish's 1-to-1 instead allows camper and staff relationships to form more organically and allows campers to practice their social skills with many different individuals. While Camper John may be in the same bunk as Counselor Seth, four other campers and four other staff are also in the bunk. The staff work as a team to take care of all the boys in the cabin. Campers often grow to prefer one counselor over another for any number of reasons, as is the case regardless of the ratio at any camp. But, unlike if they were paired 1-on-1, a camper is never "stuck" spending a majority of their experience with one adult. 

Please note that although Starfish is 1:1, campers are never alone with one staff member. Should a camper need to leave the group setting for any reason, our minimum required supervision is 2 staff and 1 camper, which we call having "eyes" (as in, one counselor has eyes on the other). If campers wish to have a "private" conversation with one staff member, they may walk out of earshot of the second counselor, but they may never go out of eyesight of a second staff member. 

Can my child attend Starfish all summer long?

Starfish offers many variations on session length and program in an effort to appeal to a variety of campers' needs. All of our programs are intensive in their efforts to help campers make gains in social and coping skills. Additionally, the highly structured routines of camp, which ask campers to be "present" in a group setting from 7:30 AM until 8:30 PM can, over time, be tiring! Some activities repeat and can become less engaging over time, causing campers to attempt to "create their own fun." Thus, we generally find that one (or sometimes two) sessions can be of great benefit, while spending the entire summer at camp can have the unintended effect of negating some of the wonderful work that campers do in the early weeks of their attendance. We consider each request for multiple session attendance on an individual basis, considering a camper's needs, any history of previous attendance at camps (including Starfish), the needs and requests of the family/parent/guardian/agency, and balancing those needs with that of the camp community. We reserve the right not to enroll campers for more sessions than, in our professional opinion and after considering all of the above factors, we feel is appropriate. 

For campers who do attend multiple sessions, we require the signing (by parents/guardians) of a Multi-Session Agreement, a PDF sample of which can be viewed here. This helps ensure that we are all on the same page about expectations and responsibilities for multi-session attendance. 

I’m really interested in sending my child to Camp Starfish. Is it OK if I don’t live in New England?

Camp Starfish welcomes campers from all across the United States and even other countries! We do require that a parent/guardian or adult responsible for your camper be accessible within a 3-4 hour distance of Starfish during the camp session. Some parents designate a friend or relative in the area as the emergency contact, while others choose to vacation nearby while their camper attends Starfish. We can help you with arrangements should you choose to stay nearby and enjoy the Monadnock region of New Hampshire during the time your camper attends Starfish.  

Who will be my child’s counselor? How are staff selected?

We hire our summer staff with care and intense consideration. Starfish seeks only the most qualified staff, individuals who are committed to working with children and youth. Many are in college or graduate programs, studying areas such as education, social work, and psychology. Others are teachers who return every summer to camp. All of our staff have a desire and ability to work with children who have extra needs. Learn more about our staff team here.  


Camp Starfish holds personal interviews, runs national criminal and offender checks, and requires multiple references for each staff member. You can read more about the process here. All staff members go through a minimum of ten days (140 hours) of training before camp begins to equip them with the skills needed to care for children. This includes training in behavior management, schedules & planning, teamwork, leadership, CPR & First Aid, communication, and specific camp procedures. You can read more about our staff training here.


My child is [gluten-free, vegetarian, etc.]. Is this something the kitchen is able to accommodate?

It is very important to us that we meet your child’s dietary needs while he or she is at camp. If your child has allergies or dietary restrictions, please make sure to include them on your camper health form and talk with us prior to camp. Some things, like vegetarian options, we routinely provide so long as we know ahead of time. For other things, like gluten-free options, we have most items but we may ask you to provide others to supplement the menu (especially if your camper, as many are, is sensitive to textures or likes only specific brands of gluten-free items). Camp Starfish provides sugar-free beverage options at all meals and offers a salad bar at both lunch and dinner. Guidance around portion sizes is offered. Our kitchen is not kosher and therefore cannot accomodate kosher meals. 

What happens in case of emergency? Does the camp have a severe weather plan?

We have extensive plans in place for cases of emergency, including severe weather situations. In addition to having the written plans, our supervisory staff and counselor staff are well trained in the safe, calm implementation of these plans. During staff training, we even do surprise drills during which the entire camp responds as they would in the case of real emergency. We collaborate with the police, fire and ambulance services in Rindge, and they are fully briefed on our emergency processes and available to help in case we need them. Because of the campers we care for at Starfish, our emergency plans all include emotional/behavioral management sections and specific staff are identified as being responsible for ensuring that the tools needed to care for campers appropriately during any emergency response are available and ready to go. Though we have never needed it and hope never to need it, we have a full camp evacuation plan in place with designated transportation, lodging, food and health support. We firmly believe it is better to be well-prepared for everything, and ideally experience nothing.

In case of weather during camp that is serious but not of emergency level, our staff is trained to calmly move campers to designated shelter areas. Campers will remain safely in these areas until an “all clear” has been issued. Administrators with walkie-talkies are located in every area where children are secured during a storm (as they are at all times during the regular camp day). Our directors and camp office staff regularly monitor the weather and make determinations about any necessary changes to the schedule. In these situations, we do our best to forecast to campers what the changes will be and how long they are expected to last. In the event of thunder or lightning, campers and staff leave the waterfront immediately and remain out of the waterfront until a minimum of 20 minutes have passed since the last incidence.  

Camp seems very expensive. Why?

The published fees for camp are determined by our costs to provide the level of programming we do. Some of the factors that cause our tuition to be higher than some other camps are the level of training and maturity of our staff – for example, our supervisory staff arrive at camp four weeks before the campers! – and the one-to-one ratio that we maintain at all times. Tuition is all-inclusive, and covers 1-to-1 supervision, activity supplies, individual swim lessons, meals and snacks, field trip costs, transportation, camp t-shirt and special events. There are no "camper account" fees or hidden costs. In addition, Starfish feels like a camp to the kids, but as adults you know that it is also a therapeutic environment with very intentional social and coping skills programming. To provide the service we do for children who have not been successful in other settings costs a little more than an average “summer camp” experience.

We encourage you to compare the cost of Starfish against other similar programs, however please realize that there are only a handful of programs nationally that offer a 1:1 ratio and the level of support for the particular campers we serve. We think you will find that in many cases, Starfish is actually not as expensive, comparitively, to other similar services and programs. Ultimately, you must weigh the desire for a proven program, high success rates, and a community of support surrounding the camp experience, against the fact that these things cost more. You can feel confident knowing that as a non-profit, the money we collect in tuition is used solely for ensuring our ability to provide outstanding services to campers and families.

My child receives services from an agency that is willing to fund camp. How does that process work?

Starfish has always considered agency and community organization support vital to the funding process for camp. Our staff will work directly with you, and your agency workers at these organizations, to help you secure tuition funds on a case-by-case basis. Simply complete the Agency Support Form (Form OPT-1) and return to our Year-Round Office. 

Q: If agencies are paying for [part of or all of] camp, who is responsible for getting the money to Starfish?

A: You and the agency. Starfish will provide you with invoices, copies of documentation, and anything else you need to ensure that the agency has a complete file for your financial request. In many cases, Starfish and the agency are able to communicate directly about this without involving you. However, the responsibility for following up with the agency and ensuring that your child’s tuition is paid in a timely manner ultimately lies with you.

Often times the dates of tuition due for the camp session and the agency's fiscal year do not match, and that's okay. In other cases,  agencies will not be able to make a full payment until your camper has finished his/her session. Starfish is happy to be flexible in these situations and wait for payment, so long as your camper’s agency worker can forward, on agency letterhead, a promissory note, signed by a supervisor with fiscal responsibility at the agency. This will allow us to advance payment dates further into the summer.

Please note that all campers must have a specific and agreed-upon payment plan in his/her file prior to the first day of camp. There are no exceptions – either full payment must be made, or an Agreement with an agency signature must be on file. Otherwise, Starfish will expect you to make the remainder of the payment and then be reimbursed directly by your agency or, if the agency will only send a check to Starfish, we will reimburse you directly upon receiving the payment in the fall. 

Is Financial Aid available? How does that process work?

Starfish fundraises tirelessly in order to be able to provide financial aid to reduce the cost of camp when the full tuition is out of reach. It is our goal to work compassionately and openly with each family to determine ability to pay and to provide assistance with securing camp funding. Financial Aid is determined based on family size, income, and other pertinent factors. Special considerations will be taken into account to the best of our ability. Supporting documentation is required in order for a request of Financial Aid to be processed.

You can find the Financial Aid application here. Also, please note that Financial Aid from Starfish can be combined with other sources of funding (such as agencies, grants, etc.) and in those situations, Starfish Aid is the last step of the process.

It is our expectation is that families who are able to pay the full tuition amount, without financial aid, will do so. Please do not apply for financial aid unless the full cost of camp is a true hardship.

Q. Will I know about Starfish financial aid before you accept my child?

A. No, but you will know about Starfish financial aid before you confirm his/her registration. We accept campers into Starfish based on their need for the special programming we offer, not based on financial merits. For that reason, our enrollment department will first accept your camper into the program, then discuss aid packages and financial arrangements. In this way, we provide financially needs-blind admissions. Once you have all the information available to you, including a financial aid package to consider, you will be asked to confirm your child’s registration.

Are there campers who are not appropriate for Starfish?

Just like with any camp, it's important that you, your camper, and the camp all feel that the potential to be a good match. A camp for teenage boys will not accept a 10 year old girl. A camp designed to provide accessible camp for children with physical special needs may not accept a child who does not need their services. While we serve a very diverse group of youth, Starfish, too, has guidelines for our camper population. That being said, we work individually with each applicant, so if you have any questions about whether Starfish is a good fit for your camper, please definitely get in touch with us!

In general, successful camper applicants are:

  • Self-feeding at an age-appropriate level (staff help with portion control, table manners, etc.)
  • Capable of toileting and cleaning themselves after doing so (staff will verbally prompt but not hand-over-hand help)
  • Free of restrictive medical conditions like feeding tubes, colostomy bags, IV medications (our health center nurses are great, but care is basic, with no doctor on site)
  • Age-appropriate with daily living skills (with verbal prompting). Examples include independently putting on a bathing suit, remaining clothed in company of others, following the steps of taking a shower with only verbal prompts from staff
  • Willing to attend - or commit to trying - camp (we will not "force" campers to attend, but we will encourage them)
  • Flexible to exploring group living (living in a cabin with others, verbally communicating during activities and bunk meetings, participating in give-and-take conversations with prompting; help with bunk/village "cleanup" chores)
  • Physcially able to traverse camp, including hills, stairs, bunk beds, traveling between activities

Typically, youth are not appropriate for attendance at Starfish are those who:

  • are currently in the juvenile justice system (Starfish is not a "boot camp" or "behavior modification program")
  • exhibit a frequent pattern of violent acts or routinely aggressive behavior 
  • set fires or those who have been firesetters and have not completed a remediation program
  • are, within 4-6 weeks prior to attendance, residing in CBAT, hospitalization, inpatient therapeutic programming, residential school, or any level of care which utilizes daily clinical/therapeutic supervision
  • require routine, hands-on toileting assistance (bedwetting is fine)
  • routinely and actively self-injure (opportunistic cutting, bleeding) as a means of emotional coping
  • have active disordered eating which includes severely restricted intake (this is not "picky eaters," of which we have plenty), binging/purging, or requiring locked storage of food
  • intentionally harm animals 
  • self-stimulate or self-soothe in public (inappropriate self touching)
  • youth with opportunistic sexualized behaviors (predatory interactions with others)

Our camp was built in the 1940s, and we acquired it in 2008. Since then we have made many upgrades to the accessibility, but it is a long-term work-in-progress. So, while we welcome applications of all abilities, if a camper has mobility restrictions, we highly recommend that you  please call and speak with us prior to submitting an application. 

My camper doesn't want to be with kids that have obvious "issues." Will he see behaviors at camp?

This is a question we are asked frequently, and it's perfectly natural to be concerned about the environment in which your child will be living. Starfish serves a wide variety of campers from many different backgrounds, diagnoses, home environments, school placements, levels of ability, and other differentiating factors. It isn't possible for us to tell you exactly who your child will meet and perhaps befriend while at camp. We can share these basic expectations with you, though:

Yes, your child will "see behavior" at camp this summer. Everyone at Starfish is working on something, working through something, and developing their skill sets in how they are going to handle those things. Campers are at different stages of their experience with developing these skills, and so it is likely that over the course of a session, your child may witness an outburst, an argument, see another camper "taking space" (walking away from the group), getting frustrated, or refusing to participate. These are the most common day-to-day expressions of "behavior" that we see at camp, and rest assured that not only is our staff exceptionally well trained to handle these situations, they are also experienced in using them as learning opportunities and helping your camper go about their camp day without it becoming too much of a distraction. It can also be beneficial for your camper to see that when handled calmly and with respect, behavior does not have to be a "big thing," which tends to be different than what children see in classrooms or placements.

Staff will respond to your camper's questions or concerns about another child's actions with empathy - because it is hard to see others struggle - and redirection - because if/when your child is struggling, she will appreciate the respect of privacy given to her in the same way. Many times, campers are able to make connections over things that they both find difficult, and often campers who are adamant that they don't want to go to camp "like with the kids from school," they are able to grow their own empathy and understanding when the child they see struggling is someone with whom they are developing a friendship. 

This question also comes up when parents/guardians are trying to determine if their child is too "high" or "low functioning" for Starfish. While we don't use those words to describe our campers, we understand what you mean and the concern behind the query. There is no one answer to this question as each and every child is unique, so we encourage you to call and speak with a Director about your camper specifically and we can walk through some questions with you that will help determine if Starfish could be a good fit. 

My child is [non binary, questioning their gender, etc.]. How is this handled at camp?

At Starfish, each individual is valued and celebrated. We do not tolerate disrespect of any individual, their choices, or their personal paths. As with many organizations and the wider world around us, Starfish is evolving over time and strives always, in all that we do, to be open and accepting of all. To that end, we share the following tenets of our Gender Statement:

  • Starfish understands that in today's ever-changing world, some participants in our program may not feel described fully by the binary depiction of gender as male or female.
  • Every individual deserves to be treated with dignity, acceptance and welcoming into our camp community. 
  • We acknowledge that sex and gender identity exist along a spectrum, and, our residential program and facility are fairly binary. With new development, we strive to make adjustments that minimize this reality, and where that is not possible, we will be open about any limitations.
  • Activities by gender identity: we do not split up into gender/gender identifying groups for activities. Almost everything at camp, with the exception of housing and washrooms, encompasses all.
  • Bathrooms: there are a few single-person bathrooms on site that can be designated gender-neutral. Each housing location has a bathroom and shower area designated for those residents.   
  • Housing: On Main Camp, campers sleep, change clothes, and live in cabins of 4-6 other youth and 4-6 staff. Cabins are, in general, designated between female-identifying and male-identifying campers. Our "Fish" Village hosts male-identifying and non-binary campers and staff of all genders. Our "Star" Village hosts female-identifying and non-binary campers and staff. Housing for Crescent Camp programs varies depending on the youth participants in attendance at any given time. 
  • Pronouns: Campers are welcome to share their preferred pronouns with staff and initially with other campers. Our staff will respect and use those pronouns. However, because so many of our campers are working on basic social skills including give-and-take conversations, any camper who attends Starfish and prefers alternate pronouns must be able to accept that other campers may or may not use those pronouns. In some cases, correcting another camper for using the wrong pronouns may discourage them from attempting to grow their social skills, in other cases, they may not have the executive functioning skillset to make the change or be able to acknowledge your child's journey at the same developmental level as your child. Respect and understanding must guide everyone in these interactions.

Every child is unique and every child & family's path is different. We work individually with each family. If you have other questions or would like to talk further about your camper and their safe, successful integration into the Starfish camp community, we welcome you to reach out to us anytime.

How do you handle behavior at camp?

Proactively, consistently, calmly, respectfully and with compassion for the deeper reasons behind the actions we are seeing. 

Behavior is not something to be feared or even necessarily discouraged, especially when it is the outward expression of difficult work that children are doing to master social skills, coping skills and calming techniques. Starfish has an extensive Behavior Management Plan in which all staff are trained, so behavior is handled consistently amongst all adults on site. Staff use decoding techniques to help campers determine the reasons behind the behavior and use a process called a "WOW" (What happened, Own Up, What's Next) to process, take responsibility, receive praise for good choices made during a not-great situation, and make amends and a future plan. This can be a casual chat with a counselor or a more in-depth process in which a child takes some time away from general activities and by working through the steps above side-by-side with staff, gradually becomes ready to rejoin the group. 

Starifsh spends much time, energy and focus on teaching successful behavior management techniques, including 55 specific and intentional interactions/supports we call "The Starfish Strategies," which you can read more about here. Campers are never belittled, "punished," yelled at, hit, forced to do physical activity, or any of a long list of things that are patently unacceptable (and also, frankly, useless) in working safely and productively with children. Staff work on relationship building and proactively addressing situations that may trigger behaviors, and implementing longer-term adjustment plans to the environment or the camp day as more triggers are identified. Being proactive and reducing as many stimuli as possible help us create an environment which minimizes behavior, but also shortens its duration when it occurs.

Will I be able to see and talk to my camper during his/her session?

You are welcome to call our camp office and check in on your child as frequently as you would like. Our directors live on-site and see your camper daily, and we can update you on how things are going. If we're not sure about an answer to your question, we will find out from the bunk counselors or village administrators.

We know it is hard to think about not speaking with your child for an extended period of time, but we have found that phone calls home tend to disrupt the camp experience and create homesickness and anxiety that wouldn’t exist otherwise. We ask you to trust us - as you are doing by sending your child to camp - that we will contact you if we believe a phone call home would help your camper. The increased independence this builds for your child, and the respite opportunity it gives you (that's right, you can turn off your cell phone for a little while!) is really worth it.

Although there is no Visitor’s Day during your camper’s session (we want you to be able to go off the grid and relax, after all!), the final day of camp serves as our camp-wide Visiting Day, which includes a family picnic and camper talent show, transition-home meeting and plenty of time for your camper to show you around, introduce you to counselors and friends, and even take you swimming or boating.

You and your camper may send unlimited amounts of mail to each other, and parents/guardians may use "one way email" to send messages that will be printed out and given to campers along with the daily post mail. 

Do you have a nurse? How will my camper’s medications be managed while they are at camp?

Camp Starfish has a nurse who lives on site all summer in “Healthy House” – our camp infirmary. Trained to deal with boo-boos and minor injuries, the Camp Starfish nurse also supervises a team of Health Care Assistants and works with the Camp Director to ensure campers and staff stay happy and healthy. As well, each cabin and day camp group has counseling staff certified in first aid. Camp Starfish also retains a local pediatrician each summer to provide advice and for the unlikely event that your camper gets anything more serious than a skinned knee.

Nursing staff stores all medications under lock and key. Only the Healthy House staff and medication administration-certified staff distribute medications. Parents/caregivers are asked to pre-pack medications in camp-provided blister packs prior to arriving at camp. The Healthy House staff meets with each family on Opening Day to discuss health care specifics for your camper.

My camper has never been away from home before. How does Starfish help with this transition?

The Camp Starfish “Set Up For Success” process is one way that we partner with campers and families to ensure a successful and positive summer camp experience. This can be anything from answering questions via email or phone to connecting new families with “seasoned veteran” Starfish parents. Mandatory for all first-time campers and their families are our pre-camp meetings, scheduled on weekends in June, when camp is open and our staff are on site. Caregivers, grandparents, babysitters and friends are all welcome to attend these rain-or-shine orientations, which include an adult-only question and answer session!

Can I send my child a care package?

We highly encourage you to write your child, and it does mean a lot to them. You are also welcome to email campers and we will print your messages and deliver them with the daily mail. As for sending care packages, we request that nothing edible be sent to camp. Even if your camper writes and requests these items, please don’t send them...keeping them in the cabin tempts chipmunks or other woodland creatures into becoming an extra bunkmate! You are, however, welcome to send packages to campers containing things like games, puzzles, books or an activity for your child’s cabin to complete together during bunk time.

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