The recent release of the Boy Scouts of America’s ineligible volunteer files has made big headlines and big headaches for the mothership. Some of it is bound to trickle down to us as volunteer Scouters, especially as local papers and other news media get hold of the files and find that some of the names listed were from your local community. Certainly, your council’s Scout executive is the person to handle media inquiries (if your local paper calls you for comment, you should redirect the call to your council office) but parents, especially those of prospective Scouts, are bound to raise the question.
Now that most packs have new families and many troops are actively recruiting the Webelos scouts to cross over, you need to be prepared with answers. Make sure you point out that the Boy Scouts of America has evolved tremendously in the area of youth protection since the IV files were started. Major steps have been taken, and continue to be taken today, to ensure that the youth in our care receive the best protection against child abuse, both physical and emotional.
- One of the joining requirements, which must be completed before a boy officially becomes a Scout, is for the boy’s parents to review with their son the booklet How to Protect your Children from Child Abuse: A Parent’s Guide that’s bound into the front cover of every Scout handbook from Tiger Cub to Boy Scouts.
- Youth Protection training is now mandatory for each and every volunteer leader before that leader’s application is even accepted, and must be repeated every two years, or the volunteer’s membership won’t be renewed. The training is available to everyone, registered or not, and parents who aren’t registered leaders are encouraged to take the training too.
- Beginning in 2010, criminal background checks are now done on every volunteer. All volunteers who were registered prior to the rule were required to consent to the background check before their membership was renewed.
- The rules for adult contact with youth are clearly explained in all levels of basic training for adult volunteers.
- The Guide to Safe Scouting, the essential reference for keeping Scouts safe, is now available for free either as a download or for reading online, and is available to everyone.
- Excellent videos and discussion guides have been produced for presentation to the boys and families, and units are encouraged to present the material annually. There are age-appropriate versions for both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Units can help this process by being vigilant and following BSA’s guidelines.
- Know the rules. Be familiar with the Guide to Safe Scouting, which makes clear that units are responsible for enforcing youth-protection policies. Know and follow the barriers to abuse, including no one-on-one contact with youth ever. Respect the privacy of youth members and ensure that there is no bullying or hazing, either by adults or other youth. Ensure that your families know about the Guide to Safe Scouting and how to access it. Our troop’s website has a link to the GTSS on every page.
- Know your volunteers. Make sure your chartered organization conducts reference checks on all new volunteers before the application is approved.
- Explain the process of youth protection to your unit’s parents. Make it a part of the orientation meeting for new families. Encourage them to take Youth Protection training online, so they will know what BSA expects of its volunteers. If they are in an active leadership or committee role in your pack or troop, make sure they are registered with BSA.
- Present and discuss It Happened To Me (for Cub packs) or A Time To Tell (for Boy Scout troops) every year. Make sure parents know about and attend too. Just do it!
- If you see something, say something. Any suspected child abuse, whether it’s physical or verbal, needs to be reported according to your council’s policy. Normally, you would notify your Scout executive.
There are still a few bad apples among us, but fortunately most of the incidents in the ineligible volunteer files are way in the past and happened before today’s policies and practices were put into place. Times have changed, and our youth protection efforts are strong and continue to evolve. It’s essential that we all uphold these standards so we can continue to be the premier youth program in America.
Update: Along with many media outlets, the Los Angeles Times acquired the ineligible volunteer files that were released by the Oregon court, and has made them available in a searchable database with many options for locating individuals, communities and units. A map with dots for communities where the perpetrators lived or were involved in Scouting allows readers to locate incidents reported in these localities. Detailed police reports and internal BSA memos and letters are included. It’s worth a look, at least for your town, to see the kind of information BSA was holding. It’s also worth pondering how today’s barriers to abuse discussed above would have prevented some of these incidents.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net