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Our Council’s Approach to PA Background Clearances

To the New Birth of Freedom Council Scouting Family,

Our Council heard from parents within one of our troops who expressed concerns about the Council’s management of state-mandated adult background clearances, and we took this concern seriously and actively worked to resolve the problem. As a recent news article from The York Dispatch has brought the unit’s concerns to public attention, I wanted to share some information that may help address concerns or questions that you may have.

As you know, the safety and protection of children in our programs is our most important priority. Today,  the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has a multi-layered process of safeguards that serve as barriers to abuse. These layers of youth protection – including the volunteer background checks that are part of our Adult Volunteer Application process, training requirements, policies, and procedures – are among the strongest safeguards found in any youth-serving organization.

The BSA implemented mandatory adult leader background checks seven years before Pennsylvania required state-specific background checks under the Child Protective Services Law in 2015. For Scouting volunteers throughout Pennsylvania, the clearances and requirements of PA Act 15 are in addition to these safeguards we’ve had in place for many years. For additional information and helpful context, this September 2015 blog post includes a discussion of common Scouting-specific scenarios that our Council, on behalf of all Pennsylvania councils, had in the summer of 2015 with then-Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas and Cathy Utz, chief deputy for Children & Youth matters, as we sought to ensure that our Council and its units were in compliance with the state’s newest legislation.

Compliance with the legal requirements of the Commonwealth is the responsibility of all citizens. As a reminder, our Council policy regarding these state-mandated adult background clearances specifies that, at the unit level, it is the responsibility of the unit committee chair and chartered organization representative to ensure that compliance is handled before any individual can begin volunteering with the unit.  This makes sense since it is the unit that engages volunteers to help and participate in activities with youths from the unit. 

As a practical matter, while the Council has the capability through our staff and membership database to effectively archive and organize record-keeping support for Pennsylvania clearances, the decentralized manner in which Scouting programs are delivered throughout our six-county service area necessitates compliance with Council policies by local unit leadership. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that local unit leaders (i.e., committee chairs and chartered organization representatives) comply with our policy.

It is important to recognize that in our experience, the units within our Council do make a good faith effort to follow Council policy regarding clearances. Our Council is committed to working closely with all local unit leaders to help ensure adult volunteers are in compliance with the state law.

  • Our staff regularly responds to inquiries from units about the Council policy on Pennsylvania clearances and is readily available to offer specific guidance to assist units with clearance collections.
  • We have training and coaching for units available to ensure that they are aware of the requirements and their duties to secure proof of background clearances.
  • To assist with some of the common questions received about the Child Protective Services Law and the required background check clearances, our Council has also developed a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ webpage dedicated to this matter as a helpful resource for all.

Rest assured that the Council has a standard procedure for handling PA clearances, and we are diligent in proactively communicating with unit leaders to prevent any and all issues related to collecting and maintaining clearances that might arise. Given the accusations made by The York Dispatch about our Council’s record-keeping for clearances, I think it’s important that I take this time to explain to you what our standard procedure is, and how it works.

  • Once the Council receives all three PA clearances from a volunteer, the Council then emails a digitally signed certificate to the volunteer confirming that all required PA clearances are on file with the Council.  The date of the first-expiring clearance is the expiration date of our certificate. The reason we email this confirmation to individuals is so they can easily forward that email and attached certificate to their unit’s committee chair, or anyone else that may be requesting proof of clearances, such as another Pennsylvania council where a troop is attending summer camp. We also run periodic reports for pending clearance expirations and issue email reminders to individual volunteers whose Pennsylvania clearances need to be updated.

One of our units has asserted that several of their adult leader applications were misplaced by the Council. We did look into this but were unable to confirm whether that occurred and if so, how. At the time this was brought to our attention, I and a member of our staff met with the unit to gather information and resolve the issues.  We do recognize that there is more of a risk that applications can be misplaced than clearances.  That is because we receive most Pennsylvania clearances electronically while, by contrast, most adult leader applications are still submitted on paper. On rare occasions, an application could be misplaced.  This is not to suggest that it is okay for anything submitted to the Council to go missing and our procedures minimize the risk of that occurring (and we are always striving to improve!).

We are also aware of an instance last year in which a leader of one of our troops did not renew one of his required Pennsylvania clearances in a timely manner before he participated in a Scouting activity. We did email this individual one month prior to this clearance’s expiration to remind him that it needed to be updated, and we can confirm that his updated clearance was obtained shortly thereafter. 

Please know that if you have questions regarding the clearances of specific adult leaders within your unit, or general questions about our policy and our Council’s handling of clearances, I am available. You can call me directly at (717) 843-2042 or email me at ron.gardner@scouting.org.

Thank you for your continued support of the New Birth of Freedom Council and the mission of Scouting.

Yours in Scouting,

Ron Gardner
Scout Executive & CEO

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