Timely Submittal of Adult Volunteer Applications and PA Clearances Helps Protect Our Scouts

The New Birth of Freedom Council is constantly on the alert for opportunities to make improvements in all aspects of council operations. As part of the annual rechartering process, we noticed more than a few adult leader applications that new leaders filled out months before being submitted with the unit’s charter renewal materials. At our council-wide roundtable on January 6, Council Commissioner Tom Steckbeck discussed the importance of promptly reviewing and submitting adult leader applications and required clearances to the Council. Below are Tom’s comments from that evening’s program that I wanted to share with everyone:

“Creating the safest possible environment for our youth is paramount in all our Scouting programs.  The BSA’s comprehensive approach for protecting our youth members includes many interconnected elements such as Youth Protection Training for all registered adult leaders, policies that create barriers to abuse, and background checks for adult volunteers.  True youth protection can be achieved only through the focused commitment of everyone in Scouting.  Working together, volunteers and professionals strive to maintain a culture of youth protection awareness at all levels of Scouting.

Tonight, I want to focus on one of these critical areas where we need your assistance making meaningful improvements.  To keep our Scouts safe, we need to ensure that all registered adult volunteers have been appropriately vetted before working with Scouts.  This includes that all adults are correctly registered with the BSA before beginning their volunteer service.

As we’ve reviewed this year’s charter renewals, we have noticed more than a few adult leader applications that were submitted as part of the recharter process but were clearly filled out and signed several months ago.  This practice of holding adult applications is not just a problem at recharter time but throughout the year.  While trying to save a few dollars in registration fees is an understandable concern, it opens the door to several potential problems for all of us.

New adult leader applications must be promptly vetted at the unit level, required approvals obtained, and then submitted to the Council before that adult is responsible for youth. 

Why is this so important?  Through our collaborative efforts, we all must work together to see that all new adult volunteers are appropriately reviewed and approved in compliance with both BSA policy and Pennsylvania law for all youth-serving organizations.  As a council, we must follow both BSA policy and state law.  We don’t have the option of choosing a different path.

The BSA requires that any adult who serves in a volunteer position must complete an adult leader application.  This application allows the unit leadership, the chartered partner, and the council to review the applicant’s history and qualifications.  As many of you already know, once an adult leader application is approved at the unit level and sent to the council, the BSA conducts a comprehensive background check on that individual.  There have been instances where the BSA’s background check has revealed information that has disqualified applicants from working with youth.

As each of us has learned in taking the BSA’s Youth Protection Training course, would-be predators try to find ways to gain access to youth.  The BSA’s background check is a crucial tool safeguarding our Scouts.  Allowing an adult to begin volunteer service before the BSA’s background check is run could potentially permit an adult who should not be approved to access youth.

Our council is also required, under Pennsylvania law, to collect three additional background certifications from adult volunteers before they begin working with youth.  These other PA certifications include the PA State Police and Department of Human Services Child Abuse clearances.  Adult volunteers must also provide either an FBI fingerprint background check or a Disclosure Statement for Volunteers if they have lived in PA for the past ten years consecutively, depending on their PA residency status.  These clearances must also be submitted before that adult volunteer begins to work with youth.

As many of you already know, other non-registered parents may also need to obtain and submit PA clearances, depending on their involvement.  More information on those specific situations is available on the Council’s website, so I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on those situations right now.

Our collective responsibility is to work together on timely reviews and submittals of adult leader applications and the PA clearances.  I wanted to let you know that the Council will be reaching out to key unit leaders and their chartered organization representatives about those adult applications completed several months earlier and submitted at recharter time or without PA clearances.  The letter’s purpose is to review and explain what actions are required going forward for everyone’s benefit. 

We understand that there are many responsibilities on your plates to keep your unit’s programs going right now, especially with COVID.   We appreciate and thank you for all that you do.  But as I said earlier, it takes all of us working together at all levels of Scouting to make our youth protection efforts work optimally. Thank you in advance for your attention to these improvements we can easily make regarding adult volunteer applications and PA clearances.

Before I wrap up, I want to share that the Council will shortly introduce a new online system to help us do an improved job in handling PA clearances.  Over the next few weeks, we will introduce this new system on our website and through emails and newsletters.  As you will learn, one of the critical aspects of the new system will be the automation of notifications to individuals whose PA clearances will soon expire and must be renewed.  Up to now, all messages have been emailed manually.  Starting 90 days before expiration, the system will begin sending reminder notices every 30 days regarding the need for an adult to renew their clearances.

Key unit leaders will also be notified 30 days before one of their adult’s clearances is due to expire. If that clearance isn’t renewed in time, that adult must not participate as an adult volunteer.  This new system will also automatically send monthly status reports to key unit leaders on PA clearances for all adults in their unit.

Again, more to come to in the weeks ahead on this new system for handling PA clearances, which will improve our ability to manage PA clearances coming up for renewal without dramatically increasing the burden for our staff.  We’re in the process now of loading data into the new system, so look for more information on our website and in your inbox in the weeks ahead.

Thank you.”     

We’re currently working with our developer to upload and prepare our database of clearances into the new system and optimize the system for everyone’s use. I’m looking forward to a “soft launch” of the system just as soon as it is ready to go. As you read in Tom’s comments above, the new system will dramatically enhance our Council’s ability to notify individuals and key leaders about soon-to-expire PA clearances. It will also provide key unit leaders with monthly reports on the PA clearance status for all their adult volunteers. More to come soon.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation and understanding in taking timely steps to register all new adult volunteers with the BSA and submit all required PA clearances to the Council. As Tom said, creating the safest possible environment for our youth is paramount in all our Scouting programs. These actions are essential elements in that effort.

Please take care and stay safe!

Yours in Scouting,

Ron Gardner
Scout Executive & CEO

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