Q&A: SSNs, background checks, merit badge counselors

ssn_mag_200Time for a few more answers to your questions, this time about Social Security numbers on adult applications, the criminal background check and how to become a merit badge counselor.

I don’t like giving out my Social Security number. Why is it required on an adult application?

An adult applicant’s Social Security number is required on the adult application form in order for the National Council to conduct a criminal background check. This is done on every volunteer who applies for membership in the BSA. The applicant’s date of birth and driver’s license numbers are also used to help identify potential issues with a volunteer and screen out those who may not be appropriate in a position where they work with youth. The BSA will not accept an application unless the Social Security number is provided.

The BSA understands the importance of confidentiality in maintaining this personal information and encourages units and chartered organizations to do the same. Therefore, the SSN space is blocked out on the carbonless copies of the form (the unit, chartered organization and applicant copies) so this information cannot be seen or retained by the unit. While this does not stop a committee chair or chartered organization representative from seeing it on the form (these two individuals must sign their approval to all volunteers in the unit), A Scout is Trustworthy enough to not misuse this information.

All applications, upon acceptance by your council office, are scanned and sent to the national office in Irving, Texas for data entry. Each council has a different procedure for retaining and destroying the paper copies (ours holds them for three years), so check with your unit-serving professional if you’d like to learn more about the process.

One workaround, if you’re skittish about showing your fellow Scouters this information, would be to leave the Social Security number space blank when giving it to the committee chair and chartered organization representative for their signatures. They’d retain their copies and give you back the local council copy. Then, you can fill in the number and hand-deliver it yourself to your council office (along with the signed disclosure statement on the page facing the application and your payment). It’s also possible for your local Scouting professional to refer you to the registration services team at the National Council and give them your SSN directly, bypassing the local council.

We must realize that the interests of protecting the youth in our care take top priority, and this is the reason that the personal information is collected from each volunteer. Here is more information from the National Council on our youth protection practices to help you understand why the BSA has put these policies in place.

Who conducts the criminal background check on adult volunteers? Can I submit my own report from State Police files instead?

Background checks are conducted by the BSA’s National Council in Irving, Texas as part of screening and registering all adult volunteers. These background checks are performed by LexisNexis, which also does background checks for state and local governments as well as other national volunteer organizations. (You could even use their services personally – when hiring a housekeeper or babysitter, for instance.)  In almost all cases, processing goes smoothly and nothing further is heard. In the rare instance that a problem is discovered during the background check, the National Council will notify the local council and the chartered organization (but not the unit leader or other volunteers). The chartered organization would then have the responsibility to remove that particular volunteer from service.

Because of the uncertainty that clearance statements from state and local jurisdictions supplied by applicants are authentic or necessarily complete, the BSA will not accept these statements in lieu of performing their own background check. State reports, even if authentic, may not include issues from other states, for instance.

I’m not on the troop committee but would like to become a merit badge counselor. Do I turn in an application to the troop membership coordinator or to the Scoutmaster?

First, a big thank you for your willingness to help the Scouts earn merit badges! While not the main aim of the Scouting program, merit badges are a key part of a Scout’s experience beyond first class.  They are an essential element, not only in advancement, but in helping young people explore areas of interest they might not have thought about. Many a career has been launched because of a merit badge a Scout earned.

Merit badge counselors are registered by your council through your Scouting district, not by your troop. You complete the usual adult application (including the background check consent form) listing position code 42 (Merit Badge Counselor), provide a certificate of Youth Protection Training within the previous two years, and fill out a Merit Badge Counselor Information Sheet (it’s available from your council service center or on their website), listing the badges you wish to counsel and your qualifications to do so. These get turned in, not to your unit committee or Scoutmaster, but directly to your council – most likely via your district’s advancement chair. Check with your unit commissioner, district professional or council office to find out exactly who should receive the application. Best of all, there is no fee!

Once you are approved, you may begin working with Scouts – but be sure to know what you’re expected to do first! Essential information can be found on the Merit Badge Counselors section of the BSA national website. Particularly helpful is the Guide for Merit Badge Counselors, which you should read and understand. Also, plan to attend the next in-person training for merit badge counselors offered by your district advancement team.

Do you have questions? I’d be happy to answer them. Just visit the Contact page to get in touch, and I may feature your question in a future article.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / freedigitalphotos.net

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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2 Replies to “Q&A: SSNs, background checks, merit badge counselors”

  1. So just discovered the other day that MBCs are one of the few positions that require leader specific training. Yes, they take YPT. But the suggestion above of “plan to attend the next in-person training for merit badge counselors offered by your district advancement team” is merely that, a suggestion.

    That being said, the MBC training metrics come up on council and district reports. This is odd because every other position short of Tiger Parent requires some kind of training where as the MBC doesn’t.

    Care to speculate?

    Again, great post. Thanks.
    Mike, fellow Bobwhite

    1. Mike,

      Thanks for your comment! You are right in that there doesn’t seem to be a national imperative for training of merit badge counselors. Rather, the responsibility is given to the local council advancement committees to ensure that counselors understand the aims, methods and mission and how the program can help Scouts advance and grow.

      The national advancement committee has a training presentation, The Essentials of Merit Badge Counseling, that can be used to accomplish this, but there aren’t any online training modules that I’m aware of, other than the guide I referenced in the article.

      This leaves it largely up to the local council and district advancement teams to personally reach out to each counselor when they register and periodically thereafter to make sure they know what’s expected. It would be helpful if the national council would provide more accessible training and add a requirement to take the training.

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