Perhaps it is the sign of the times or perhaps it is because of the publicised lawsuits that the BSA have gone through (and probably will go through) but I have received more than ten e-mails this past month asking questions about the safety of the camp and its program. One person wrote us and said that she was considering sending her sons to Camp Parsons with their troop and wanted to know what background checks we did with our staff. Another person inquired about whether we have had any youth protection "issues" in the past. Several wanted to be assured of our kayak treks and hiking treks....did our staff know what they are doing.
I must admit that I was taken aback a little by some of these questions as they are ones we really have never had asked before. Then again, I can understand in this day and age about a parent's concern about leaving their child at a "foreign" place for a period of time that they cannot readily get to. I also understand a leader's concern about the training of a trek leader as well. Although the canal or the Olympic Mountains are a tranquil place, given the right weather conditions they can be down right nasty and dangerous. Although our trek leaders or staff are experienced, there have been times I have questioned some of their judgement. This does not take away from the overall safety, it just adds more to what I have to remind our trek leaders what to do and what not to do. One of the hardest things to get into a twenty-two year old's head is that they level of activity must be at the level of the weakest member of the group.....frustrating at times but necessary. However, it is the question about the background checks that got me thinking.
Currently, if you are an adult (which is defined as eighteen or older) you must first pass youth protection training prior to applying to be a registered adult leader. When you register, you must supply a social security number so that a criminal background check can be done. Are these absolute protective measures? No, but it is a good start. The key element in assuring the safety of the scout is the adult leader that the parent's trust to manage their children.....the Scoutmaster. As an extension of that, the Scoutmaster must approve of the adult leaders that help with the management of the troop and of course is overseen by the Troop Committee. This is why we defer to the Scoutmaster when it comes down to individual scout behavior. If a scout cannot follow the rules or is a danger to camp property, we can deny the scout the use of that program area or equipment, but we cannot punish the scout for what he did, that is the role of the Scoutmaster in conjunction with the parents (whom he/she should know well). The youth protection guidelines are not suggestions....they are the rule and if followed should assure the personal safety of any scouting minor. It is when the guidelines are not followed that you have the unfortunate circumstances that occurred in the 60's and 70's and if they are occurring now, then it is my personal opinion that the troop adult leadership and parents be held responsible. It is each registered adults duty to assure that they and other adults adhere to the guidelines....we do.
How do you do a background check on a sixteen year old? For me I usually listen to their parents, adult leaders and their young colleagues that may know of that individual outside of camp. I answered the question that the inquiring parent put forward much like my discussion above. Our adult staff go through the same process and are held strictly to the youth protection guidelines. We have released several staff members through the years for violations (albeit stupid but innocent actions on their part) of the guidelines. We had a seventeen year old staff member jokingly demonstrate a strangle hold on a young scout. Unacceptable....and the staff member was extremely apologetic but that may not mean anything to the scout he was joking around with (and possibly ones in the future). I can go on and on about different examples, but luckily each one was not a malicious event, just stupid decision making by teenagers (please refer to the Guide to Scout Physics)....gee, have we seen this before? I feel bad for the staff members that I have had to let go for these things, but we never waver away from those guidelines and as a result, we do not have any "issues."
Is it safe? Yes....it is very, very safe.