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Your next move when a Scout can’t find a merit badge counselor

expertlogo1One-hundred and thirty-five is a lot of merit badges.

In fact, it’s so many that you’re bound to be approached by a Scout wanting to earn one for which you aren’t qualified to be a counselor. Worse yet, it might be one where nobody comes to mind who could teach that merit badge.

What’s a Scouter to do?

For starters, I’d advise you to ask around your district and council.

There’s a good chance someone in your council can teach the merit badge. Help your Scout by connecting him with those resources. It might take some legwork on your part, but the results could be life-changing for the Scout. Just think, he might be introduced to a field that becomes his career some day.

On the other hand, I’d advice against doing what one Scoutmaster did. Which brings us to today’s Ask the Expert question and answer.

The Question

From a Scouter who will remain anonymous:

More than a year ago, this young man in our troop asked his Scoutmaster for a blue card so he could start working toward earning the Music merit badge. His Scoutmaster told him he couldn’t give him a blue card for Music because our troop doesn’t have a Music merit badge counselor, but the Scoutmaster did agree to try to find one. Our intrepid young Scout has asked for a blue card several times since his first request, and he’s gotten the same answer each time. What recourse, if any, does this boy have?

A complicating factor is that this Scoutmaster doesn’t recommend a counselor, he “assigns” a counselor, so this boy doesn’t have any options. The new(er) language of the current Advancement Guide only makes the matter worse; “The unit leader and Scout should come to agreement as to who the counselor will be.” In this case, “should” means the same as “will,” and it’s the “will” of the Scoutmaster that prevails. Any thoughts?

The Answer

From Mike Lo Vecchio of the BSA’s Content Management Team:

The Guide to Advancement Section 7.0.0.0, topic 7.0.0.3 says any registered Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or qualified Venturer or Sea Scout may work on any merit badge at any time. He is to have a discussion with his unit leader before he begins working with a counselor. The signature of the unit leader on the merit badge application indicates this discussion took place.

It goes on to say that it is the unit leader’s responsibility to see that at least one merit badge counselor is identified from those approved (this may be any approved counselor in the council, it does not have to be one from the Scout’s unit).

However, the Scout may have one in mind with whom he would like to work. Lacking agreement, the Scout must be allowed to work with the counselor of his choice, so long as the counselor is registered and approved.

Ask the Experts your question

Find other expertly answered questions here, and ask your own by emailing me.

49 Comments on Your next move when a Scout can’t find a merit badge counselor

  1. good source for available Merit Badges being taught in USA :

    http://meritbadge.info/index.html

  2. This issue has probably caused as much controversy as any other.

    As far as selecting the Counselor:

    1. We let scouts choose their counselor – if they know who they want. If they don’t, we provide suggestions.

    2. If the counselor isn’t doing their job, we counsel the counselor.

    3. If #2 doesn’t work, we remove the counselor.

  3. As far as what happens when you don’t have anyone who can be a counselor…

    I agree with the comments about finding someone else in the District or Council or a friend of a friend who can help out. Sometimes, this person could be the counselor. But sometimes not.

    In the cases where they cannot be the counselor, we have used them to help educate one of our adult leaders so that they can sufficiently guide the scout through the requirements.

  4. Jeffrey Herr // August 11, 2014 at 8:22 am // Reply

    The title of your post is grossly misleading. The content of the post doesn’t suggest anything about the challenges of finding a merit badge counselor.
    Please keep link bait out of future article postings…

  5. Jeffrey Herr // August 11, 2014 at 8:25 am // Reply

    Related to the post topic, in this day and age, counseling on a merit badge doesn’t have to be constrained by physical proximity. Skype, FaceTime and others all allow for remote counseling. Not ideal, but if you can find no one else…

  6. In our unit, when new families become involved with the troop, we make sure each parent gets polled to see what skills they have, then we follow up by asking if they would like to become merit badge counselors. Those adults have the option of being Unit Only counselors, or counselors available to the entire district. We assign one adult to be a Merit Badge Coordinator and we make sure there is a list of unit merit badge counselors posted within our TroopTrack site.

    Boys are not limited to using only counselors within the troop. Districts have an Advancement Chair who should have compiled a list of counselors within the Scout’s district. Of course, a Scout wouldn’t typically know that, but your unit’s Advancement Chair would (or should) and so should the Scoutmaster.

    I recall as a kid I wasn’t able to find a Metalworking merit badge counselor within my district and I was allowed to work with my Metal Shop teacher in my junior high school to earn the badge. Same thing for Electronics, which was part of my vocational studies at the time. That was 40 years ago and times have changed. Counselors need to be registered, which is a pretty easy procedure that doesn’t cost anything but a little time to complete.

    • You can still use the shop teacher or friend who is specialist or knowledge hobbiest in the field. Just make sure they get registered as a Merit Badge counselor AND complete Youth Protection Training.

  7. Also to complicate things, if a scout wants to keep going to keep going to the same counselor for his merit badges (especially a parent), I believe new language in the guidebook says a troop can limit how many badges a scout can get from the same person.

    • H. David Pendleton // August 11, 2014 at 9:25 am // Reply

      Yes, the troop can limit a Scout to how many MBs from one counselor. The caveat is that it has to apply to all Scouts equally so you cannot tell Johnny he can only get 5 MBs from MBC X, but Billy gets to have 10 MBs from MBC Y.

    • Our Council took six months to sign me up as a Counselor. I was surprised it took that long.

      • Robert Bardsley // August 11, 2014 at 12:23 pm // Reply

        No, six months is way too long. Last year my District had all kinds of problems with the MB list so they removed everyone from the list, including people who were properly registered and trained. Several of us re-registered and submitted the paperwork. There was also a push to register counselors for the District MB College. Yet when the Council put out a MB list there were no counselors from my District on it. I found out that all of the applications were not processed because it was not a priority. A strongly worded email to the Council Advancement committee and CC’ed the VP or Programs and the Council Exec took care of the problem in a flash.

    • Hi AJ, that’s news to me. Our council got in trouble with National a few years ago for limiting to counseling 3 merit badges per boy per year. Do you have a source you could share?

      • John, I think to clarify, a troop may limit the number of badges from one counselor, but the council cannot.

        This is useful when there are plenty of MBC’s available for the badge. Let’s say that there are four counselors for the Citizenship badges. Why should a scout get all three from one person? The scout should be encouraged to work with different counselors.

      • H. David Pendleton // August 12, 2014 at 5:46 pm // Reply

        2013 BSA Guide To Advancement (GTA), Page 48, Section 7.0.1.4, 3rd Paragraph & I quote, “Neither does the National Council place a limit on the number of merit badges a youth may earn from one counselor. However, in situations where a Scout is earning a large number of badges from just one counselor, the unit leader is permitted to place a limit on the number of merit badges that may be earned from one counselor, as long as the limit applies to all Scouts in the unit.”

        Our Council recommends that MBCs only do 6 MBs, but if a Scouter wants to do more they will allow it.

  8. Our council maintains an online registry of all MBC’s through the doubleknot system that also is used for cal endear and registrations to district and council events. It lists every counselor with contact info, which merit badges they are authorized to be counselor for, and if they are willing to work with specific or all units.

    If your council doesn’t have this, they should have something. Contact the council registrar and they can point you in the right direction.

  9. John W. Owen // August 11, 2014 at 9:05 am // Reply

    I like the answers and suggestions others have made. The BS council should have a list of registered, approved counselors. If someone in adult leadership knows of a qualitied individual who has the skill set and credentials to be a counselor for a merit badge the Scout wants to work on, then a simple application via the Council should “approve” the application (if it-the application-meets the requirements), At least, the Council knows the quality of the counselor thru the registration/application process. Resources, communication, cooperation are the foundation of what we do as leaders. Make them available to the Scout.

  10. Matt Culbertson // August 11, 2014 at 9:24 am // Reply

    Find a new SM.

  11. Robert Bardsley // August 11, 2014 at 9:56 am // Reply

    My council also maintains a master list of all registered counselors. Each month the list is updated. What my unit does is we maintain a list of the counselors that are directly connect with our unit. (leaders, parents, charter org members) That is the starting point for the boy. If we do not have a counselor then we go to the MB counselor list and look for a person that would be the best fit for the youth. (usually based on proximity) As a leader I will make recommendations of outside counselors based on my knowledge of the person. I know many people on the list from my Scouting interactions. Our Council has limited the number of badges a person can do to eight. This spreads the interactions with counselors around. We also utilize summer camps and Scout Merit Badge Colleges as a way for boys to work on badges they normally would not have the ability to work on.

    The one battle I had with my Council over MB counselors was on the list They password protected it which is fine but they only sent the password to Scoutmasters. When I questioned this and asked why committee chairs and other unit leaders such as Varsity Coaches and Venture Advisors did not have the password I got an interesting response. The Council Advancement Committee said only Scouts in Troops earn MBs and that the chairs didn’t need the password because only the Scoutmaster uses the list. News to me since being the CC of my Troop and Crew I maintain the list and recruit counselors. As a Varsity Coach I have young men earning badges toward their Trail to Eagle.

  12. A troop in our district has a policy that effectively keeps a Scout from earning Eagle Rank before her turns 15 by specifying which troop counselors may counsel Eagle required merit badges and at which rank they may earn them,. This policy is well known w/i the council, but since the Scoutmaster is one of the most senior SMs, if anyone has made a complaint, I don’t know if any action was taken. He does have a successful troop, but the restrictions keeps the Scouts from earning Eagle Palms for their hard work. Our troop gained some great younger Scouts b/c of these restrictions.

    • Robert Bardsley // August 11, 2014 at 10:16 am // Reply

      Setting restrictions like that goes against the whole advancement program. When we impose our own rules because we feel in this case becoming an Eagle before your 15 and not possibly mature enough sends the wrong message to the Scouts.

      I have counselled many Scouts on their MB selections. At times I have recommended they not take a certain badge. Usually it was either they need a prerequisite badge (Swimming before Lifesaving) or that they may not be experienced enough for the badge. There are certain badges like Cit in the World or Environmental Science that an older Scout can handle better than the new Scout because of the experiences they have had in school or other activities.

      Right now I am working with one of my older Star Scouts who is working on the Trail to Eagle. We have met and together have worked out an advancement plan to accomplish the eight remaining badges he needs for Eagle. We took into account his upcoming school schedule and his sport team activity. He decided certain badges shouldn’t be done during sports season because he could not commit the time to it but there were some badges that he could work on during the season.

    • In addition to limiting palms it hampers your Varsity and Venturing programs.

  13. We used to have a district list, but the council quashed that. Our district list had at the time at least 1 qualified counselor for each and every merit badge. But, in the case above – doesn’t the scout attend school? What about the school’s music teacher? Give him the forms to sign up the music teacher. Talk about a no brainer. When I was a scout, I wanted to do plumbing merit badge. I took the forms to the plumber who lived accross the street. Soon enough, that was a done merit badge. For First Aid, I wook my whole patrol to the Nurse down the street. For Oceanography, we had a teacher in the High School who taught it (I also got Environmental Science from him, as he was already a registered counselor in another council).
    Hm, what was it we used to be taught in TLD (and taught) – USE YOUR RESOURCES.

  14. You might have the young man ask if his school’s music teacher is a merit badge counselor. In my experience, many music teachers are MB counselors already. If not, the teacher might be interested in becoming a counselor.

  15. Wow! I thought you were looking at an obscure badge like Composite Materials.

    Let’s start with the fact that a Merit Badge Counselor is a district position. A counselor cannot be registered (chartered) with a troop.

    Does your district actively recruit and have some body assigned to recruit counselors, especially for those less common badges? Does your district actively maintain that list?

    In theory, there should be no “troop list”. My council too has limited access to Scoutmasters. I do think they should share the list with ASM’s who have been delegated to issue blue cards.

    It is up to the adult to make this program work. A simple call to a local school music teacher should have resolved this particular problem.

    And as for requiring a scout to be fifteen to work on Eagle, remember that you cannot add requirements.

    • Robert Bardsley // August 11, 2014 at 12:14 pm // Reply

      My “Troop/Team/Crew list” is really a smaller list of counselors that have affiliation with the unit such as parents, leaders and others that the unit got signed up as counselors. We use it as the first round list so we don’t have to consciously search for our counselors in the master lsit. Troop Master is what we utilize for the small list. We still use the Council list for badges outside of the ones we have local coverage for. For example, I have a boy who needs to finish Amphibian and Reptile Study from camp. Not many local counselors (including in our unit) but the Council list netted us a counselor for it.

      My Council also limits access to SMs which is fine for several reasons, My contention was when they did not recognize Coaches, Advisors and Skippers require access to the list too due to having young men working on badges. When a Council Advancement Chair says Teams and Crews do to work on MBs or rank advancement and so the unit leader doesn’t need the list shows me a chair that is out of touch with their advancement in his/her council. Same with keeping the unit CC from the list. A good committee helps recruit counselors and submit their paperwork to the District/Council for approval. They also review the list to ensure counselors are active and are current in their YP. They also can assist in recognizing counselors who are no longer serving and need to be removed from the list. All things that make the unit leader’s job easier.

    • H. David Pendleton // August 12, 2014 at 5:52 pm // Reply

      Merit Badge Counselors (MBC) CAN BE registered with a Troop. If the MBC want-to-be is already on the Committee or a SM/ASM, they have to submit another & separate application to be a MBC. That means they are registered as a MBC with the District or Council depending on how the Council operates, but their primary registration is with the Troop.

      Our council gives all MBCs the option on the forms we fill out to be a MBC for only one unit or for the entire district. IF the MBC chooses the former option, their name stays off the computerized list. If the MBC chooses the latter option, their name is on a computerized list that Scouts & Scouters can access. The Scout clicks their district and then the MB they need a MBC for & everyone in the district for the MB is on the screen. If there is none, the Scout can click on a neighboring district to see if there is any MBCs there for that MB. We have several districts within 10 miles of us so we have almost every MB covered. Within the council, we have 100% covered.

  16. John Erickson // August 11, 2014 at 11:54 am // Reply

    There are two benefits for a Scout earning a merit badge. The first is to learn about a subject of interest that may lead to a career, a hobby or just increase his knowledge. The second benefit is to interact with an adult of good character. After all character building is one of the aims of Scouting. When a Scout earns a merit badge from an adult he already knows well, such as an adult leader in his troop, he misses out on the opportunity of being influenced by another adult of good character. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t earn badges from adults in his troop, but a good Scoutmaster should encourage Scouts to move outside their comfort zone and earn badges from counselors they do not know as well. Besides it gets more adults involved in Scouting and that is always a good thing.

    • I met lots of wonderful people earning merit badges. My architecture merit badge counselor became a life-long friend. He was my best man at my wedding, and he mentored me in my teaching career. He lived just a few blocks from me, but I probably never would have met him if not for earning the badge. He had remodeled his house and it was impressive. On the other hand, my Landscape Architecture counselor had a concrete back yard with vehicles parked all over it. A veterinarian counseled me for Pets MB, and an EMT counseled me for First Aid.

      I think it’s a shame that so many troops are insular when it comes to merit badge counselors. I encourage the counselors registered through my troop to not check the “unit only” box on the form, and I encourage the Scouts to seek counselors outside the troop. The (seemingly) simple act of the Scout contacting an adult he doesn’t already know is a growth experience for some of the boys.

  17. Ok, here goes. I’m speaking from my old troop where I was SM and ASM for 5 years. Small troop. Many of us were registered to teach several different disciplines. For instance, I’ve been a horse trainer, breeder and shower for 40 years. I’ve been swimming, skiing and boating for all of my life as far back as I can remember. So those events I feel comfortable with.

    We ask parents what they are comfortable with. In a small troop if we only used troop counselors it would be very limited. Our treasurer was the bank manager. Perfect for any of the financial things.

    I’m the chairman of our P&Z committee in our town. Easy peasy to do several of the requirements for the citizenship stuff. I have numerous contacts with vets and docs (family is docs)…so that part is fairly easy.

    Now when it came to conversation, environmental science, physical fitness, etc. We relied on professionals in those fields. School personnel perfect for signing off on aspects such as the sports requirements in the Eagle required badge.

    As a small troop, we relied on professionals in fields to achieve most of the requirements.

    I ended up doing forestry, nature, soil and water for our boys….as a troop. I contacted conservation and the forest service, but they had no time. So they said I could do it. I said not. But in the end what they did was give me written instructions and the materials they would have used had they done it, and I did it. It was a learning experience for me and the boys. My preference would have been for the pros to do it, though.

    Then there’s the MBU’s….but I know that’s a hot topic for lots of folks as well. We went to about 4 a year, so our boys got at least 4 badges that way.

    We did 80% of our badges as troop events (at least the portions that did not require ‘individual’ input). Enviromental Science, Citizenship badges, swimming, hiking. Never got the biking one done…boys didn’t have bikes that would survive those rides, lol! Photography, vet science, law, and many, many others.

  18. About council listings. They are great, but the last time I checked (when I was SM) a year or so ago…. there is a spot that says ‘troop only’. Meaning a counselor can specify they are not available to anyone BUT the troop.

    This is necessary just to get people to sign up as couselors. Many are willing to give their time to their troop, but stop at doing city, counsel or regional trainings.

    So, even i a council HAS a listing, it may not be available to everyone.

    • Yes, you can limit yourself only to one troop just as you can limit yourself to only when you are available, but you still register with the BSA through the district. You are also supposed to be approved by the District Advancement Committee, if I am not mistaken.

      If you are a MBC for a more unusual badge, say Skating or Truck Transportation, maybe you should be on the district list, even if you intend to work with one troop. You can always say that you are unable at that time.

      • I’m registered with all the ones I listed at the beginning. But not the ones that were impromptu (aka Conservation/Forestry Service would not do it) and we were on a tight time frame (our troop was disbanding in 3 months), and they wanted to do them as a troop. They did go talk to those agencies and talk about what they had learned through the resources given to us by them.

    • Our council’s list has a area to note if the counselor is willing to work with all boys, only boys from a specific unit or district. They also are (many of them) entered into the list under a unit number and it is possible to search for a list of counselors by unit. I personally feel that if I’m willing to be a merit badge counselor it should be for any boy who wants to work on that badge. While I’m a member of several area units and Scoutmaster of 1, I do not affiliate with a unit on the merit badge counselor list for this reason.

      As a Scoutmaster I encourage my boys to choose a counselor who is not an adult affiliated with our unit if at all possible (encourages more association with adults), but do not require this to be the case. In the end it is up to the boy to choose his counselor. With my own son, my wife and I will not act as a merit badge counselor for him, but that is our personal choice. We also are counselors for merit badges in which there are many other local counselors that he can approach.

  19. The troop keeps telling my son they do not have a list of MB counselors. Council told us the list had to come from the troop. My son found the solution asking around his other MB counselors for the MB counselors he needed next. You can tap into other troops. Round Table meetings are open to everyone, you can meet other adult leaders there. It should not be this hard to find a registered adult to work with a scout, but there are ways around it! Don’t give up, remember; “when there is a will, there is a way!” Have your scout keep asking, every meeting, until the adults get tired of being asked and end up telling your scout what he needs to know. Good luck to everyone!

  20. Guys…. did you see the link I put in the first comment. If you need a MB look there and jump your troop & council if they sandbag you.

  21. My son joined Boy Scouts in November and my husband became an assistant scoutmaster a few months later. My husband soon found out that no boys were working with a merit badge counselor and the scoutmaster was signing it all off. The reasoning being that the scoutmaster couldn’t get a list of merit badge counselors. My husband wanted to correct this so he has spent almost 4 MONTHS calling and emailing multiple people from the district and the council, and no one has a current list of merit badge counselors to give us and they won’t even give us an old list. At first I was disappointed in our scoutmaster but I now realize that the district didn’t give him another choice. We are continuing to call our district rep in hopes that one day we will get a list but in the mean time how are scouts supposed to earn merit badges?

    • Robert Bardsley // August 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm // Reply

      Copy in the Council Executive next time you have a request. That usually causes things to get done.

    • Allison, I would encourage your husband to be the guy who develops a counselor list for the troop.

      New counselors are required to completed an Adult Volunteer application and complete Youth Protection Training. They are expected to fill out a Merit Badge Counselor Information Sheet as well. I do not think there is a fee to register.

      If your husband is motivated to get more training, he should complete the Wood Badge experience. There seems to be several “ticket items” in this dilemma.

  22. All of those merit badges with not a one earned learning about Jesus who can save their soul. Boy scouts is a stepping stone to the military. Military does not care about the character of Jesus either.

    • Robert Bardsley // August 11, 2014 at 2:33 pm // Reply

      The BSA has the Religious Emblem program which allows the youth and adults to work and develop a deeper spiritual commitment in their faith. Each faith has specific requirements which when completed the Scout/Scouter can wear the appropriate medal and universal religious square knot on their uniform. Sadly this is an underutilized program in all faiths.

    • H. David Pendleton // August 12, 2014 at 5:40 pm // Reply

      My son has earned 3 religious awards thru Scouting. When he is eligible for the 4th, he will be doing it. A Scout is reverent is the 12th point of the Scout Law and that is exercised in a variety of ways.

      NO, the Boy Scouts IS NOT a stepping stone to the military. Less than 4% of all adults under the age of 50 have ever served in the military. In my district, I would say the number of Scouts that I know that have joined the military is far below 1%.

      The values that the military wants in its service members is very much the same as those in the Boy Scouts. The values of the Boy Scouts can also be found in the 10 Commandants. Thus, the three support each other if a Boy Scout were to decide to join the military.

    • Relevant American Cultures merit badge requirements are listed below.
      1b – Go to a place of worship…identified with one of the [racial, cultural, national, or ethnic] groups.
      3 – Tell about some differences between the religious…customs of the three groups.
      4 – Tell about a contribution made to our country made by three different people, each from a different racial, ethnic, or religious background.

      “A Scout is reverent,” not Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Amish, or any other religious persuasion. He doesn’t even need to be a member of an organized religious body to fulfill this requirement.

      Membership in the BSA provides youth with a variety of life skills. Its aims are to produce citizenship, character, and fitness so that youth are prepared to be productive citizens whether they enter the military, a profession, a trade, or any other job status in the future.

  23. I am currently a counselor for 4 merit badges.

    Our council has a list of Counselors with contact info. I guess I am lucky our council is pretty good and active in this and many other regards.

    I have interacted with another troop and helped scouts finish up “partials” that they received at camp. Very fulfilling experience working with new/different scouts.

    Whenever I meet someone from another troop in our area I make a point to mention what badges I counsel for. I guess a little of the work falls to us scouters to get involved in our councils and make or even force change. From the comments here it sounds like some of you guys need some serious help.

    As for the Scoutmaster mentioned in the article he needs to be taken to the woodshed.

  24. Interesting comments here. Some accurate, some not so much. I would suggeset that everyone read, and perhaps re-read Section 7 of the Guide to Advancement. Many of your comments and issues are covered in the GTA. BTW, Councils and Council Advancement Committee’s are charged with creating, maintaining and distributing MB Counselor lists. GTA-7.0.2.0

  25. Phillip Outzen // November 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm // Reply

    I had this happen to one of my sons. He was interested in a MB (I forget which one) that was not a “popular” badge. No counselors in the council. I emailed 3 surrounding councils, never got a response. After about 2 months of calling and leaving messages around, he lost interest and moved on. Opportunity lost.

  26. Another problem is those adults qualified to be a MB Counselor, but only willing to work with their own unit…..I feel if an adult is going to be a MB Counselor then they should do it for any scout in any unit

  27. My son found his teacher, while knowledgeable on the subject matter was not registered add a MB counselor and brought her an application. This may be an untapped resource that a little knowledge and paperwork could fix. I have found there are not many teachers out there that do not want to help a kid succeed in and out of school. If you don’t have the right counselor available in the Troop look into this readily available resource.

  28. I encourage potential MBC’s not to use the ‘Troop Only’ option when signing up to be a MBC – especially for one of the more ‘specialized’ badges. I never want to tell a scout he can’t earn the Chemistry MB (for example) because our district hasn’t found a counselor.

  29. Our council has a master list for the district, but I think there is a simpler ask the scout’s music teacher to become a merit badge councilor. He already has an interest in the boy and his success. He can then help anyone else with the merit badge in the future.
    .

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