February 8 marked the 111th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Since its founding in 1910 over 130 million young men and women have participated as youths in various programs under the guidance of over 35 million adult volunteers. This past year has been a rough one for scouting. Between efforts to settle instances of abuse, filing bankruptcy and the pandemic, scouting has had a year like no other in its history.
Please know I am not a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts, but a volunteer scouter that has been associated with scouting since I joined cub scouts in 1966 at the age of 8 years old. Scouting has given me far more than I could ever return. During this past year, I, along with scouters everywhere, have found myself saddened and troubled.
However, at the same time, I have been proud of scouting’s response to the situation. My hope is the program will survive and be able to continue to fulfill its mission far into the future.
In my mind there is no doubt that scouting made some mistakes over the years. I believe that in the past the response to abuse instances and allegations was not enough even though some might argue they were adequate in following what was required or expected at the time. The scouts have said, and I certainly agree, that even one case of abuse is one to many.
Changes have taken place in scouting and they are making a difference. Many don’t realize it, but of the cases that have been settled or are being settled over 90% occurred at least 30 years ago. To me that information should be repeated as it indicates that at some point some changes were made. So, again, over 90% of the cases being mentioned in the media, online and, perhaps by your neighbors, happened 30 years or more ago.
Scouting is now safer than it has ever been. Scouting is now making more efforts than ever before to protect those participating in the program. Here are some of the changes that have been made.
In the 1980s the Boy Scouts of America implemented a policy known as “Two Deep Leadership.” This means that at least two adults are required to be at all meetings and on all trips or scouting activities. No adult can meet alone with a scout. In scouting today if an adult sends an email to a scout another adult must be copied. If an adult calls a scout on the phone another adult must be on the phone. If a merit badge counselor meets with a scout another adult must be present.
Another change that has taken place is that before they can be registered as an adult leader those wishing to register must have a background check done by the BSA national office and have “Youth Protection Training” either online or in person. This training includes not only two deep leadership, but also topics such as signs of abuse, preventing abuse and reporting of abuse.
In scouting all incidents of abuse or suspected abuse must be reported. In many states the reporting required in scouting goes beyond that required by state laws. Violations of the two deep leadership policy must also be dealt with in appropriate manners ranging from a reminder of what the policy means to reporting violators to scouting officials.
While changes have been made to protect scouts the program has changed to keep up with the times. Merit badges have changed from areas such as pathfinding and signaling by Morse code to atomic energy and space exploration. Scouts no longer required to learn how to stop a runaway horse. Females aged 11 to 18 now have an opportunity to join all-girl troops and be Eagle Scouts. Younger girls can be cub scouts in all girl dens. Yes, it is not your grandparents Boy Scouts!
However, with all the changes, some of the most important things have stayed the same.
The mission of scouting is, as it has been from the beginning, to be a character building organization. The mission statement of the Boy Scouts of America today is “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.”
Would you believe that this Scout Oath and Scout Law mentioned in the mission statement have not changed since they were first adopted in 1909? Scouts today, like many of their great-grandfathers, grandfathers and/or fathers before them still make the same promise to do their duty to God and Country, Others and Themselves and to follow the same 12 points that make up the scout law.
No doubt is has been a difficult year for scouting. But, rest assured changes have been made over the years and are being made today to ensure the program will be safe, relevant and that it will continue into the future. Some may wonder if the program should continue.
To me the answer to that question is pretty simple. As long as it is considered important for youth, regardless of their gender, race, economic background and religion, to learn the values embodied in the scout oath and law then there is a need for scouting.
The Scout Oath
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
And to obey the Scout Law.
To help other people at all times,
To keep myself physically strong,
Mentally awake and morally straight.
The Scout Law
A Scout is: