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By the GREATER CLEVELAND COUNCIL-BSA
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I’m a Life Scout, age 17 (I’ll be 18 in three months). I have almost everything I need to be an Eagle Scout completed, except for one merit badge and my service project, and my Scoutmaster conference, and then a board of review. My mother’s a single parent and has been for years. I have brothers and sisters at home. I’m the oldest. My mother and I have had difficulties, and her life isn’t easy, so I guess she was just trying to fix things when she decided to give me up to the Foster Care system. But when she signed over custody, she also wrote a letter to the Boy Scout council stating that she didn’t want me in Scouting, so the council suspended my membership. I called the council office and spoke with the right person there, and he told me a committee meeting would be held to determine what my status would be, but that will take at least a month to happen. When I called him a month later, he said I’d have to have my guardian set up an appointment in the council office to discuss the issue. My foster mom works at least ten hour days, and the office is nearly 50 miles and another hour’s drive away.
To answer the questions you asked me, my foster mom is my aunt—my father’s sister. Because of the change in towns, from my mother to my foster mom, I’ve had to change troops, but my new troop is happy to have me and has promised that they’ll help me with my service project! My former troop was happy for me, also, that I was able to find a new troop to join where I live now.
When my biological mother and I had been going through our problems, she continued to try to entangle me in the courts and he brought a friend who was a big volunteer from the council with her to every court date. This helped make it look like I was getting in all kinds of trouble. By the end of all these meetings, when I was put into Foster Care, the council volunteer made sure the person on the council professional staff suspended my membership. When I met with him to discuss this, he told me that he would keep my membership suspended until me and my mom worked things out and got back together. I explained to him the situation and our background, and also the time problem I have now, but he said he couldn’t change anything.
I’ve been a Scout for years. I’ve volunteered to help at Cub Scout day camps and other events; I’ve helped my fellow Scouts with their service projects; I was elected to the OA by my troop and am an active Brotherhood member. I show up for lodge service projects, too.
I’ve received the Den Chief Service Award and earned the religious emblem for my faith. I’ve staffed our council’s summer camp. But I’m sure not perfect. I’ve had my fair share of misunderstandings, and I’ve gotten a few things definitely wrong. But here I am, right on the edge of finally making it all the way to Eagle Scout, and I’ve been stopped and I can’t do anything to fix this. You helped me once before, Andy. Can you help me now? (Name & Council Withheld)
I’m sure you’re feeling pretty alone right now. But you’re not alone. You’ve got some pretty good and caring folks on your side. Let’s understand this: Your council folks aren’t “against” you. But they do have to abide by what parents say they want for their kids. In your case, your mother stated that she didn’t want you in Scouts, and the council folks have no choice but to abide by parents’ wishes. There are absolutely no “bad guys” in your council! In fact, they need your help, and the help of your foster mom to make things right again.
Right now, your membership is only suspended, and this can be reversed in an instant. What the council folks need in order to do this are just two pieces of paper. The first one is the legal or court document that says your aunt is now your foster parent/legal guardian. The second is a written (it can even be hand-written) statement from your foster mom saying that it is her desire that you continue in Boy Scouting. Both of these need to be presented to a professional from the council, at an in-person, face-to-face meeting.
Yes, because of the circumstances, a personal meeting is definitely necessary. There’s no way around this. But here’s the good news: Nobody has to drive the nearly hundred miles back and forth to do this! This can be done in the town and home you’re in right now—no driving necessary! Here’s how…
Your aunt needs to contact the name I gave you (along with the phone number and email address). This person is a District Director for the council, and serves the area you now live in. Your aunt can get the documents ready, then call and arrange a meeting that fits her own schedule. (If possible, you’d probably want to be there, too, and don’t hesitate to wear your full uniform including your merit badge sash, Life Scout badge, and Den Chief Service Award cord.)
If you’d like to put the icing on the cake, ask your new Scoutmaster to also write a brief letter stating that he’d like you to be a member of the troop! Then your aunt can give this letter (or email message) to the council’s District Director, too.
Yes, you’ve had some problems in the past. In your situation, it would be unusual for this not to have happened. But there’s nothing that can’t be understood, even though it can’t be simply erased. In fact, your record of accomplishments and solid Scout spirit are strong testimony to your desire to live your life by the Scout Oath and Law.
I’ve been a Scoutmaster for more than 16 years, but have never before experienced the following problem. This is likely because the issue stems from the camping practices of another troop nearby. Two Scouts who just transferred from that troop to ours have told me that their former troop offered only four to perhaps six camping trips per year, which were always one-nighters, only. Nevertheless, all Scouts who went camping received credit for two nights per campout. On top of this, if the troop had a one-day hike, the Scouts received credit for one night of camping. I mentioned this nonsensical practice to our Unit Commissioner, whose reply was, “Don’t make a big deal about it.” But, as the Scoutmaster, don’t I have the right to correct the camping records of these Scouts and put a stop to this nonsense? (Name & Council Withheld)
Sounds like a sort of “Solomon’s decision” here. The largest problems I can see, if you decide to correct the elsewhere sins of the past, are that (a) this was a wayward act on the part of that troop’s adult leaders and not the Scouts themselves (we don’t penalize Scouts for the errors of adults), and (b) you run the risk of beginning a sort of witch hunt that can lead to a loss of youth and considerable negatively-placed energy on your part. You might want to consider letting the past be the past, and limit your actions to acquainting the Scouts who have transferred in that things will be a bit different from now on.
I know that traditionally you need to have at least three committee members to conduct a board of review. I have enough committee members on the troop roster—15, in fact—but they never can seem to be able to get three together at the same time. This unfortunately results in a Scout waiting a month before he can have a board of review for his next rank—something I think is inexcusable. I’d like to see these done right away—preferably right after I conduct their Scoutmaster conference. So, if we have, let’s say, two committee members, can I have a knowledgeable parent fill the third spot? (Name & Council Withheld)
Yes, in an emergency situation, a troop is permitted to substitute a knowledgeable parent for a registered committee member. That said, your troop committee obviously has a major problem, especially when you consider the fact that boards of review can be held concurrently with troop meetings (just use a separate room), and committee members should be showing up to at least deliver their sons to the troop meeting—and there are fifteen of them! This, however, is for your Committee Chair and advancement coordinator (a committee member) to solve (Scoutmasters don’t schedule boards of review!). They need to hold a meeting of all committee members—again, concurrently with a troop meeting makes the most sense—and advise them that one of their primary responsibilities is to support the troop’s advancement program by showing up when needed for boards of review. I’d recommend that a formal once-a-month board of review schedule be established, and committee members literally commit to and sign up for these ahead of time (minimum four or five per review). They also need to allow for multiple boards of review on the same evening, by having at least six members sign up, so that two reviews can be run concurrently. Finally in this regard, folks need to realize that boards of review take perhaps 15 minutes at the most (including briefing in advance of each) for Tenderfoot through Life ranks.
So have a serious talk with your Committee Chair. You need the support of the committee if you’re going to deliver a quality program! Establish a process: Scoutmaster conference SM alerts the advancement coordinator that a Scout is ready AC schedules the review Review happens within one week. If there’s a “delay,” it should never be for more than one week. ________________________________________
We have a 16 year-old Scout who’s not very active with the troop and is disruptive when he does attend. Just recently, I was shown photos from a social media website, in one of which he was lighting an aerosol can on fire, and in two others with beer cans and appearing intoxicated.
As Committee Chair, I thereupon contacted his mother. Her response was that those photos were taken some four to five months ago, and not at a Scouting event. Our Scoutmaster and I discussed his disregard for the Scout Oath, regardless of where the photos were taken. I want to have a committee meeting with the Scout and his parents, but I am not sure I want him to stay with our troop. What are my next options? Who should be on the committee? Do I contact our council? Should I involve law enforcement? (Name & Council Withheld)
Age 16 is a troubled time in a young man’s life, in many ways. He’s often attempting to individuate himself, find out “who he is,” and begin the long and wrenching process of separating himself from his parents, as a person of his own. Frankly, this is perhaps when he needs Scouting most–more that other periods along the maturation curve. To remove him from the troop now instantly disavails him of the values of Scouting (our “hidden agenda”) and sets him adrift in a challenging, often lonesome, and sometimes threatening world. Cut loose, he’ll form other peer relationships, sometimes quite the antithesis of those he may have had in Scouting.
This is one of the reasons The Patrol Method is so critical to the success of our educational movement—having peers in a small group is incredibly important and valuable, especially right now.
This is time for a Scoutmaster conference! They’re not just for advancement, of course—they’re ideally done with each Scout on a regular basis, so that the Scoutmaster has some idea of what’s going on in the lives of all the youth in his care. So suggest that conference, to find out what’s going on in this Scout’s life—school, religious pursuits, family life (relationships with parents and well as any brothers or sisters, sports, etc.). For all we know at this point, the reason why his mother says this “non-Scouting stuff” isn’t relevant is that she’s in denial. Or maybe the parents themselves are having problems that are spilling over onto him. But, whatever’s going on, it’s time for the Scoutmaster to see if he can unearth it, in the same manner that a big brother or kindly uncle might.
So, at this point, the committee isn’t necessary, you have nothing of substance to report to the council’s Scout Executive, and there’s no tangible reason to remove him from the troop. As for contacting “law enforcement”… What is it you think you’d say that’s fact and not second-hand hearsay? Online photos? Not hardly! As you, yourself, said, he may have “appeared” to be intoxicated, or it may have been play-acting as a way to express a deeper problem.
As for being “disruptive” in troop meetings, that’s of course way too vague for me to comment on, except to say that coaching his Patrol Leader and finding ways to give this Scout some responsibility or responsibilities that fit his interests and/or talents may go a long way to helping him. Besides, at 16, he’s eligible to become a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, which would instantly put him in the position of being directly guided by the Scoutmaster—and this youth-to-adult relationship with some responsibilities tossed in may be all he needs! Think it over.
As Scoutmaster, last night I was asked to step into a board of review for a Scout on the brink of Life rank, who indicated that he isn’t sure about God’s existence. Given that, he can’t be doing his “duty to God” right now—unless we consider his thinking and studying on the subject to fulfill that obligation. I’ve been looking around the Scouting Service Project, and they indicate that Scouts can experience this, but I can’t find anything which tells us how a board of review should proceed. Would you please advise me, and direct me to the appropriate resource? (Name & Council Withheld)
First, I hope the reviewers simply told the Scout that the review will be “tabled” temporarily while you all do some research, and that they did not convey to the Scout that he’d somehow “failed.” It strikes me that this Scout gets an A+ for bravery!
Meanwhile, did the reviewers happen to ask this Scout what he believed at the times that he earned his four prior ranks?
Does this Scout attend any church, synagogue, or other faith-based organization? How about his family? Even once a year? Does he show up on Scout Sunday or Sabbath (I’m making an assumption here that your troop observes Scout Sunday/Sabbath)? How about “Scout’s Own” while at summer camp…what does this Scout do?
Ultimately, the best “resource” is in the Scout’s own heart and prior behavior, and the worst is in making presumptions. Young men in their mid-teen years are unsure of a lot of stuff. We’re their guides. If the board of review were to ask this young man if he has a major problem saying the Scout Oath, and he replies that he doesn’t, then move on. If he is unsure of “God” but pretty sure “something” started this universe we’re whirling around in, that’s just fine… The whole idea here is that while the English language might use “God,” another name or even belief without being a formal religion is OK. Read the BSA’s Statement of Religious Principles; it’s on page 2 of any BSA membership application.
What happens when the Road Runner recovers from his sore throat? (Hal Facre)
Oh good grief! Beep repaired!
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)
[No. 343 – 1/12/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]