Safety in Numbers

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As we headed home from a recent church youth trip, one of the van drivers sent out an alert via GroupMe that he was the only adult in his van. His assigned copilot had ended up in the wrong van, leaving him technically in violation of the church’s Safe Sanctuaries policy (think Youth Protection for youth groups), which requires two unrelated adults in each vehicle. So we all stopped at the next interstate exit, got everybody in the right seats, and continued on our way.

Policies like that can seem like overkill–until something happens. In our case, we came home to learn that the married owners of a local youth dance school had just been arrested for sexual abuse of one of their students. Two girls on our trip were also students at that school and knew the victim.

You’ve probably heard the old saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” I think it’s equally true that eternal vigilance is the price of safety for the young people we serve. Short of extreme emergencies, we shouldn’t cut corners or take shortcuts–even if that means recruiting a reluctant volunteer to spend a night at summer camp or making an unscheduled stop on the interstate.

It’s also essential that we keep up with changes to BSA policies, including an important one that’s taking effect this fall. Here’s the language from the BSA’s updated Family Scouting FAQ document:

Effective, October 1, 2018, two registered adult leaders 21 years of age or over are required at all Scouting activities, including meetings. There must be a registered female adult leader over 21 in every unit serving females. A registered female adult leader over 21 must be present for any activity involving female youth. Notwithstanding the minimum leader requirements, age- and program-appropriate supervision must always be provided.

Note the explicit inclusion of meetings here, as well as the fact that 18- to 20-year-olds will no longer count for two-deep leadership.

As Scouters, we have no higher purpose than to keep our Scouts safe. And that takes eternal vigilance.


Need some great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

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Scramble, Be Flexible

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On June 4, 2018, the leadership at Philmont Scout Ranch made the difficult but inevitable decision to cancel much of its 2018 season. You can read the details here and here, but basically they cancelled the first half of the season for backcountry treks and the first two weeks of conferences at the Philmont Training Center. (NAYLE is not affected because of its location on the ranch.) Staff members are making calls to crew advisors and PTC participants to let them know what their options are.

According to my back-of-the-envelope math, this decision affects more than 10,000 Scouts and leaders who are suddenly faced with deep disappointment and one or two open weeks on their calendars. I can’t imagine what they’re going through–and I don’t in any way want to trivialize what they face–but it seems to me that they have the chance to teach their Scouts some life lessons nearly as powerful as those they would have learned on the trails at Philmont.

The most notable of those is what happens when life hands you lemons. And that’s a lesson we can all teach in our troops. While your troops’ plans may never be disrupted by a devastating wildfire, they will at some point or another be disrupted by a canceled flight, bad weather, a key leader’s sudden unavailability for a trip, or excessive snow days that push the school calendar far into June. How you as a Scouter deal with those disruptions will help prepare your Scouts for the individual challenges they will face throughout life.

And it’s here that we can learn from the staff at Philmont. When 1,100 seasonal staff had to evacuate base camp due to the Ute Park FIre, they didn’t scatter to the four winds or take their backpacks and go home. Instead, they moved 25 miles down the road to Springer, N.M., where they pitched tents and kept going with their training. According to one report I read, they even found time to do a service project by picking up trash around town. You can learn more about their experience in this great blog post from a Philmont Ranger.

Speaking of Rangers, their watchword is “Scramble, Be Flexible,” something they and their colleagues will be doing big time this season. If you help your troop adopt that watchword when plans go awry, you will give your Scouts a priceless gift.


Need some great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.