Spence’s Farm is under fire from parents and former staffers for potentially endangering children, but complaints about the outdoor kids’ camp may not fall under the jurisdiction of state and local child protection services.
Nancy Coston, social services director in Orange County, declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations—which, as reported in the INDY last week, include reports of children who were bitten by snakes, marched up steep mountain cliffs and walked unguarded behind horses—but she said the complaints would not likely be handled by her office.
“There’s nothing that makes your child be there,” Coston said, adding a local social services office would probably become involved in clear cases of child abuse or neglect.
The state’s Division of Child Development and Early Education, which oversees licensing and regulation of day care and child protective services, would also not become involved.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Kirsti Clifford said summer camps and after school programs are exempted, meaning allegations of wrongdoing would likely be left to local law enforcement.
Spence’s Farm, operated by local farmer Spence Dickinson, is billed as an authentic farm experience just north of Chapel Hill. It accepts children between the ages of 5 and 16 for summer camp or after-school programs, offering them lessons in empowerment and communication. Children tend to animals, hike mountain trails, ride horses and grow organic foods at Spence’s Farm.
Among the complaints against Spence’s Farm, a former staffer accused Dickinson of making sexually inappropriate comments to her in the workplace. Numerous staff members have departed the farm in recent months, with four citing Dickinson as their reason for leaving.
Meanwhile, multiple parents and staff say they are worried about children’s safety at the farm, which has offered summer camp programs to local children for more than two decades.