Do you need a policy handbook?

parent_handbook_250It seems like we live our life by rule books. We have policies and procedures to follow at work. The clubs and organizations we belong to have by-laws, rules and regulations. Every sport has an official rule book, and most sports teams have a policy manual of some sort for parents and participants.

How about your troop or pack? Do you need a policy handbook?

It’s not always necessary for a Scouting unit to outline all of the policies and procedures that it might feel are necessary. This is because we already have a master policy, if you will, that governs everything we do: the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

  • Do you think you need a policy to control behavior at meetings? A Scout is Courteous and A Scout is Obedient take care of that.
  • Is there a need to specify that the meeting room needs to be put back in order at the end of the evening? A Scout is Clean is your reference.
  • A purpose statement that says your unit will take part in service projects in the community? To help other people at all times and A Scout is Helpful are your go-to statements.

However, with newer families and younger Scouts, these values may not have quite sunk in yet. And with parents fresh to our program, there are a lot of unanswered questions:

  • When and where do we meet? What do we do?
  • What’s the difference between a den and a pack?
  • How do we raise money for the unit?
  • Who does my son see about advancement? Uniforms? Handbooks?

These and a thousand other questions have been asked over and over by new parents and their sons. So, many packs and troops have set out to create a handbook of their own, explaining these things to parents so everyone will be on the same page – so to speak.

In Scouting Magazine earlier this year, Mark Ray wrote about how to create a pack handbook to answer the myriad questions that parents, both new and experienced, are bound to ask. A carefully-written handbook covers a variety of topics and does so in clear, unambiguous language and serves as a reference point so all situations are treated in the same manner. Plus, it gives families basic information that’s not in those twelve words.

If you don’t have a handbook, use Mark’s article as a starting point. He has a list of topics to cover.

  • Start by explaining each topic as best you can. Use your current practices as a guide.
  • It’s best if a couple people can have input, so your chances of mis-stating or forgetting something important are lessened.
  • Keep each section brief and to the point, but make sure you hit the essential elements.
  • If someone on your committee is a good writer, ask them to write or review your document.

Be careful to avoid creating any rules that vary from Scouting’s official policies. Publications like the Guide to Safe Scouting contain lots of information that apply to our activities, so be sure you don’t run afoul of them. Advancement is another area that some units bend the rules in, both to the lenient side and the stricter side. The Guide to Advancement is the official reference, so it’s not necessary to quote the entire book in your document. Hit the high points and refer to the Guide if anyone needs more detail (since they are both available online, just give the URLs or link to them on your unit website).

And it’s best to avoid creating policies just because you feel the need for one. If it’s your opinion that things should be done a certain way, ask others how they feel. Ask yourselves why you need yet another policy in the first place. There may be more than one way to accomplish a particular goal. Often, when a policy is created to deal with a specific situation, it can create additional unforeseen problems. Anything that you declare in a unit manual should advance the goals of Scouting and serve the Scouts, not make it harder to do so.

If you’re totally stumped on where to start, search the Web for other units’ handbooks. There are dozens of them out there. A good reference might be this sample handbook [Microsoft Word document] published on the US Scouting Service Project website. Just be sure to follow due diligence and don’t just copy what someone else has done.

If you have an existing handbook, review it periodically to make sure you don’t have anything that unintentionally conflicts with official Scouting policy, or which contains procedures that are outdated. Maybe, at one time, your unit always went camping at a specific camp, so the policy to have an annual “Lost Lake Campout” is no longer possible if that camp is closed. An annual read-through, looking for obsolete references and incorrect information, is a good idea.

Parents often need more specific information than what they’ll find in their son’s handbooks. Make sure they have ready access to it – but don’t make a handbook so large as to discourage reading it.


This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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