The Boy Scouts of America is continually working to remain a leader among youth-serving organizations in the fight against child abuse. And kids who are abused outside of Scouting have a better chance of recovering and thriving by joining youth-serving organizations like Scouting.
Those were two of my big takeaways after attending the two-day National Youth Protection Symposium this week in Grapevine, Texas.
The BSA was one of 24 youth-serving organizations at the event. These organizations, which serve a combined 20 million youth, gathered to listen to the top minds in abuse prevention and share best practices. The common goal: keep kids safe from those who might do them harm.
One of the experts who spoke was Victor Vieth, executive director of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center.
He said that the majority of abuse cases happen within the home, and the perpetrator is usually someone the boy or girl knows. In other words, throw out the stereotype of the unknown individual we were warned about in those “Stranger Danger” videos.
This revelation puts Scout leaders in a unique position not only to help recognize, stop and report abuse within the organization but also to look for signs of physical or emotional abuse in Scouts in their unit. These might be physical bruises or behavioral signs of emotional trauma at home. When in doubt, get another adult and have a conversation with the young man or young woman to learn more.
If you do suspect a Scout or Venturer has been abused, you are required — not just expected — to report it to the proper authorities. That’s something you already learned in Youth Protection Training. That mandatory reporting requirement makes the BSA a leader among youth-serving organizations, Vieth said.
He told the other youth-serving organizations, “You should do what the Boy Scouts have done” and require mandatory reporting for all adults.
Despite the uncomfortable subject matter of the symposium, there was good news: Youth-serving organizations like the Boy Scouts of America “can help children who are abused become more resilient,” Vieth said. “By taking kids on a hike, you can help them overcome.
“You can be that amazing person they don’t have in their home life. So many [abused] kids have said to their researchers that the reason I turned out OK was because that guy at the Boy Scouts was so different from mom and dad. All of a sudden they’re being taught violence isn’t the norm. You are building those characteristics.”
A Team Effort
The BSA’s Youth Protection strategy is strong, but we are not in this fight alone. Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock said collaboration is key.
He said the organization won’t rest until we stop abuse in this country, period. That means inside and outside of Scouting. And that’s why Brock and other top BSA leaders made attending the symposium a top priority.
As with last year’s symposium, the BSA’s volunteers and professionals did much more listening than talking. BSA speakers were at the podium for less than 45 minutes over the two-day event. The rest of the time, they heard the latest research, much of it confirming what the organization already incorporates into its mandatory Youth Protection Training.
They also held meaningful discussions with colleagues in other youth-serving organizations. Susan Woessner, director of safe sport for USA Swimming, underlined why working together to fight child abuse makes sense.
We’re really all serving the same kids,” she says. “The kids that swim are in the Boy Scouts, and they go to church and they go to camp. We should give them consistent messaging about abuse prevention, about appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and interactions with the adults in their lives.”
Dr. James S. “Jim” Wilson, chairman of the BSA’s National Youth Protection Committee and a Silver Buffalo recipient, agreed.
That’s why, as the symposium’s volunteer host, he helped Michael Johnson, Youth Protection director of the BSA, organize representatives from American Heritage Girls, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Kiwanis International, Girl Scouts of the USA, Scouts Canada and other youth-serving organizations — in addition to the best and brightest nationally recognized child protection experts.
“Let’s put together a group of folks that will look to the future,” he said. “That’s why you’re here. We want this to be a collaborative effort where we are looking to the future to see how we can do things differently. Not just in the Boy Scouts but in every youth-serving organization.”
The attendees watched interviews with convicted child molesters, they heard terrifyingly true stories of abused children and they vigorously took notes as sobering statistics were revealed.
What You Can Do
At this point you may be asking how can you as a Scout leader help stop these evils. It all boils down to not being afraid to take action, and that was a big takeaway for me.
Oftentimes we hear people say, “Somebody ought to do something about this.” But oftentimes the person who says that doesn’t see himself or herself as somebody. You and I are somebody.
We have an expression in Scouting that “Youth Protection begins with You.” That really means that Youth Protection can be best achieved through the shared involvement of everyone in Scouting. This includes Scouting professionals, volunteers and leaders, parents and anyone who works to keep kids safe and certainly anyone who becomes aware of possible abuse.
It’s about stepping up and saying, “I will do something about this” and helping provide a safe environment for youth.
The stakes couldn’t be bigger. Our youth are counting on us.