Engaged supervision: What it means, and how it helps keep everyone safe

Photograph by Monica Dunn

April is Child Abuse Prevention month, making this an appropriate time to talk about the importance of engaged supervision.

The BSA’s rule on adult supervision is spelled out on the Scouting’s Barriers to Abuse website:

Two-deep adult supervision by registered adult leaders 21 years of age or over is required for all Scouting activities.

Scouting activities include – but are not limited to — den meetings, patrol activities, unit outings and service projects. They also include communication methods such as text exchanges and virtual meetings.

All of these activities must, of course, be supervised by two registered adults. But there’s a difference between supervision and engaged supervision. Adult leaders are the ones who are ultimately responsible for monitoring behavior and intervening when necessary. That’s engaged supervision.

Take, for example, a patrol activity during a weekend campout that involves a team of 6-8 Scouts preparing a meal, planning a future activity or practicing Scout skills away from the rest of their troop.

It’s not enough to simply sit nearby with the mindset that a Scout who needs help will certainly call out. Engaged supervision means being actively engaged, situationally aware and willing to act if you observe anyone — youth or adult — acting in a way that isn’t aligned with the Scout Oath and Law.

Yes, Scouting’s programs are meant to be youth led. They’re also meant to be guided by adults.

Photo by Steve Markowitz

Staying S.A.F.E.

To ensure the safety of participants, the Boy Scouts of America expects leaders in all Scouting programs to use the four points of SAFE when delivering the Scouting program: supervision, assessment, fitness and skill, and equipment and environment.

Whether you’re in a meeting in an elementary school cafeteria, on a hike at a nearby state park, or climbing to the top of an actual mountain, Scouts should be supervised by adults that are adequately trained, experienced, and skilled to lead the activity, including the ability to prevent and respond to likely problems and potential emergencies.

In some cases, this might mean bringing in qualified instructors, guides or safety personnel from outside your unit to provide additional guidance. And as the meeting or activity progresses, it means maintaining engagement with participants to ensure continued compliance with established rules and procedures.

Taking Youth Protection Training is required. Taking any additional training that the BSA makes available for adults is excellent. But it’s not enough by itself. After all the training is done, what matters is ultimately accepting the responsibility for the well-being and safety of youth under your care.

Engaged supervision is the key to preventing accidents that happen when no one is paying attention, and incidents of abuse or bullying.

Photo by Christopher Langlois

Staying engaged

Here are some ways you can practice engaged supervision during your next Scout activity.

  • Engaged supervision means knowing that “kids just being kids” is never an excuse. Inappropriate behavior is always inappropriate and should be addressed immediately.
  • Be aware of everything going on around you. If something doesn’t seem right, take the time to go investigate. Never assume that the youth will handle it on their own.
  • Closely monitor all restrooms, shower houses or other changing areas. Be especially on the lookout for digital recording devices, cameras, and phones, which are never allowed in these areas.
  • Monitor all Scouting-related online activity, including private online groups. When it comes to online activities, look for business-oriented conference platforms that include good safety and privacy features.
  • Private communications such as texts, phone calls and online chats must include another registered leader or parent, as must communication by way of social media. All aspects of the Scouting program should be open to observation by parents and leaders.
  • If only one adult leader shows up to a scheduled activity, cancel it. Adults should never be alone with youth who are not their children.
  • There are no times when it is appropriate for Scouts to meet without adult supervision, including patrol activities.
Photo by Scott Markewitz

Being aware of bullying

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Needless to say, it is incompatible with the principles of Scouting.

And the bottom line is, the chances of a Scout being bullied greatly decreases when adults are practicing engaged supervision.

Most of us can recognize bullying as it happens — as long as we’re paying attention — from name-calling, belittling and taunting, to hitting, shoving, or physical intimidation. What can be trickier to detect are the signs of a child who has been previously bullied.

Kids who have been bullied may appear lonely, have difficulty making friends, or suddenly have fewer friends. They might be reluctant to join activities or unwilling to participate. They may appear sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed.

Scouts who have been bullied need clear messages of support from adults. The last thing they need to be told is, “work it out.”

Support and empower youth who are bullied or at risk of being bullied. Praise the Scout for having the courage to discuss bullying incidents.

Those who are bullied may feel powerless, scared, and helpless, so this is your chance to give them a voice. Ask the Scout what he or she needs to feel safe.

Learn more at the BSA’s website devoted to keeping Scouts safe.

About Aaron Derr 182 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.