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Protecting Our Youth Members Is Our Top Priority


May 1, 2019

Fellow Scouters,

Given the news coverage last week regarding the Boy Scouts of America’s efforts to protect our youth members from all forms of abuse, I wanted to share some information on this critical responsibility that may help you address concerns or questions that you or others may have. 

First, nothing is more important to our movement than the safety of our youth members … period.

Experts tell us that among the general U.S. population, one in six men have experienced sexual abuse or assault at some point in their lives.  This is an unacceptable public health problem that must be addressed and the BSA seeks to be part of the solution along with all other youth-serving organizations.

Last Wednesday, our Chief Scout Executive, Mike Surbaugh, along with Dr. Janet Warren (a professor from the University of Virginia and researcher and expert in sexual crimes against children) and Erin Eisner, Chief Strategy Officer for the BSA, held a press conference to address the efforts taken by the BSA to protect youth. Much of what appears below summarizes the key points made at that press conference.

Mr. Surbaugh noted that in 2018, there were five known victims of sexual abuse nationally in our Scouting programs, this at a time when there was 2.2 million youth in our programs.  That said, we steadfastly believe that even one incident of abuse is one too many and we are continually improving all our policies to prevent abuse.

Decades ago, the BSA adopted some of the strongest barriers to abuse found in any youth-serving organization and we take the responsibility to uphold those barriers seriously.  For many years, we have been considered by many of the top experts in youth protection to be leaders in this effort.  Some of the things that we do are:

  • Youth protection training is mandatory for all registered adult leaders and we also provide educational materials to parents and youth in every handbook.
  • The BSA uses a formal leader selection policy that includes criminal background checks and other screenings.
  • We use a strict “two-deep” leadership policy, which requires that a youth is never alone with an adult leader during Scouting activities. No youth is permitted to sleep in a tent with an adult other than his or her own parent(s).  We prohibit all one-on-one contact in private between adults and youth members, including texting and social media.
  • We mandate that all allegations or suspicion of abuse are reported to authorities. If we receive a report alleging abuse by an individual, that person is immediately barred from participating in Scouting pending the outcome of any investigation by the authorities.

Long before there were smartphones, email, the internet, criminal databases, or other modern methods to identify or track predators, the BSA took a vital step to help protect children from bad people by creating the Ineligible Volunteer Files, which is now referred to as the Volunteer Screening Database (VSD).  Its purpose was to ensure that anyone seen as unfit to be a leader – even those not charged or convicted of any crime – would be removed and banned forever from our program. 

Dr. Warren was engaged by the BSA in 2011 to review the files maintained in the BSA’s Volunteer Screening Database and analyze ways that the BSA could further improve its youth protection efforts.  The BSA publicly released Dr. Warren’s first report in 2012 and she is the final stages of preparing an updated comprehensive report and recommendations expected to be released sometime this summer.  Dr. Warren stated that she and her research team reviewed the full, complete and unredacted files in this database.

Individuals are added to the Volunteer Screening Database based on violations of BSA policies, or suspected violations of those policies.  Dr. Warren said the data demonstrated that the BSA’s use of a database to prevent unsuitable adults from accessing children was cutting edge and it worked, even in an age where there were no computers. Today, record-keeping databases such as ours are recommended by experts, including the CDC, as an important step in protecting children.  This Volunteer Screening Database, which has been maintained since the 1920s, has successfully prevented potential predators from rejoining our organization and gaining access to youth.

As part of her review, Dr. Warren said that 100% of all cases of suspected abuse reported over the past 50 years have been reported to law enforcement.  All instances of suspected abuse are reported to the proper authorities.  We do not keep any reports of suspected abuse secret or hidden from law enforcement. 

Scouts First Helpline. We also actively share and encourage the use of our nationwide 24/7 Scouts First Helpline, (844) 726-8871, to report any suspected abuse or inappropriate behavior. 

Dr. Warren also said that the rates of incidence of reported abuse in BSA programs were far less than the rate of incidence in society as a whole.  Data shows that the BSA’s youth protection efforts since the 1980s have been highly effective in preventing abuse.

We care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting.  We believe victims, we support them, and we’ve paid for unlimited counseling by a provider of their choice and we encourage them to come forward.  We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our program to abuse innocent children. 

To continue to enhance society’s ability to protect youth, Ms. Eisner said the BSA fully supports and advocates for the creation of a national registry overseen by a governmental entity, similar to the national sex offender registry, of those who are suspected of child abuse or inappropriate behavior with a child, and thus allowing all youth-serving organizations to share and access such information.

In addition to the information discussed at last week’s press conference, it should also be known that here in our Council:

  • Leaders in our Council are required to complete four different background checks, including the three clearances mandated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
  • All adults (including parents) attending any New Birth of Freedom Council summer camp program must comply with the child abuse clearances required by their home state and must also successfully complete the BSA’s Youth Protection training course.

As I said earlier, there is nothing more important than the safety of our youth and we are committed to ensuring that every Scout can experience the transformational impact of our programs in a safe and secure environment.  Millions of children participate in and benefit from the character building and leadership activities in our programs – without incident.  Parents can be confident in our program and be proud of the BSA’s efforts to protect children while they learn, have fun and experience Scouting as it was intended.

If you have any questions, please call me at (717) 843-2042 or email me at ron.gardner@scouting.org.

Yours in Scouting,

Ron Gardner
Scout Executive & CEO

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