Module 12 – Scenario 4 Answers


Scenario # 4 – The Troop From Hell

This particular scenario has generated the most discussion to date. Here I will share a lawyer’s response followed by a response from a great Scouter and fellow Wood Badge beaver living in London.

View #1

What do you do?

1. As the ADC in this situation, you have probably realized that you need to find out a lot more before you or the Commissioner’s Staff can be effective in this situation.

2. Your first problem is to advise Jumpin’ Jim on what to do immediately or he’ll probably figure out something on his own and it may be guns ablazing. You can make him part of the crisis team in this situation by laying out your plan of approach and asking him to help you in the fact-finding with specific areas (maybe limited) before action takes place.

3. As ADC you can tell Jumpin’ Jim that your plan of action is something like this (more comment on the hypothetical after this):

a. Fact-finding – answer as many of the important questions as you can.

1] Jumpin’ Jim can go through the records with the District Training Chairman to see which troop leaders received what training at what time. This should probably be couched in terms of reviewing all units that Jumpin’ Jim has to avoid singling out the old troop. Or it can be a special project to review all of the units in your service area with Jim leading the charge. Won’t hurt to keep it general and non-specific an can avoid rumors.

2] Jumpin’ Jim can continue to go to the next meeting or two and listen and ask a few questions that are not accusatory, if he can work them into conversation (this is a judgment call); e.g., he can find out which leaders were on the campout, where it was, dates, and get a feel for what boys were there.

3] You may want to check around to see who knows the SM or any of the ASMs and see what the grapevine says. This needs to be pretty subtle, because you don’t want to signal that the Commissioner Staff is on the hunt – It is not.

b. Team review – That’s you the ADC, your Unit Commissioner, the District Commissioner and the Senior District Executive (especially if you suspect that YPP issues are involved). Review the facts known and not known. Tell Jumpin’ Jim that the team will develop a team plan at this point with specific responsibilities for each player and reassure him that you are not going to overstep into his relationship with the troop (you don’t want to anyway).

c. Actions decided by the team. Suggest to Jumpin’ Jim that these actions may include more questions that he will have to ask, contact with the SM, contact with the Committee Chairman, or the Chartered Organization. However, stress tha the questions will need to be pursued in a definite order. It’s a good time to point out that, if we get to far ahead of ourselves when can polarize the situation and find that the Chartered Organization is backing the SM until death.

4. Now here are some of the questions that I thought needed to be answered when I designed the hypothetical (and I know that there were a lot of other good questions raised in discussion that should be added):

a. Who were the adult leaders and other adults present at the Campout?
b Was the Scoutmaster there?
c. Who was in charge and when?
d. Were any of the other leaders present trained?
e. When was the last training for each?
f. Have any of those leaders attended YPP Training, if so when?
g. When did this Campout take place? (Was it recently or a long time ago?)
h. Where was the Campout?
i. Was it within 50 miles of the troop’s meeting place?
j. If not, did the troop get a tour permit? (If they goofed here, their liability could have been much greater, if something went wrong or had gone wrong – this gets attention)
k. What did the Scouts plan as the activities for the Campout?
l. Who approved the Patrol Leader’s Council’s plan for the campout?
m. Did the PLC’s plan include Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and/or the hazing?
n. Regarding D&D – its popular among early teens as a game – what do you know about it? Does it teach any Scouting values? Is it appropriate for a Scout activity? (You may need to use your resources to find out more, before you are ready to take this on – there are several web sites where you can learn more.) Opinions on this are fairly divided that its okay, if the Scouts wanted just a fun weekend and that it should be allowed at all.
o. Did any of the alleged events take place?
p. What were the circumstances?
q. If they did take place, which adults, if any knew in advance?
r. Did any of the adults know about these activities when they were taking place?
s. If they did, what did they do?
t. Was their action an appropriate resolution (meaning you really don’t need to add more)?
u. Is the adult leadership now aware of the problems, if the allegations are true?
v. What has the adult leadership done since the campout?
w. Is their post-campout action an appropriate response?
x. Has the SPL or any youth leader taken action (I’ve seen an SPL take a whole troop to task after an event for poor conduct without the SM asking)?
y. Was any Scout hurt?
z. Was any Scout molested by an older Scout?
aa. What has been done?
ab. What still needs to be done?

5. Depending on the answers to these questions, you as the ADC will have to decide who needs to be involved at what stage in the resolution of any problems discovered. You may decide that unit has discovered its problem and addressed it appropriately. If so, it wouldn’t hurt to just to run it by your District Commissioner and District Executive, just in case something else comes of the events that you didn’t know about (nobody likes surprises!).

6. Assuming that there are problems that need to be resolved, as the ADC you probably will want to involve both your District Commissioner and District Executive in the process. However, you don’t want to get too many folks involved. The more people involved, the more who talk, the more the rumors and pretty soon you no longer have any control and damage is being done. Back to the main point here. You want your District Commissioner involved to give you support, advice and act as a sounding board. He will want to be involved, because he’s responsible for every unit’s health. Because he will not in all probability have any relation to the unit, he can give impartial and independent advice and help make sure that emotion doesn’t get ahead of reason. Because of the potential for YPP problems and perhaps other policy issues, the DE needs to be aware of what you are doing. The worst thing that could happen is for you to develop a great plan only to find out that a distraught parent has called the DE and that he’s already confronting the Chartered Organization’s Institutional Head, the Committee Chairperson or SM, based on a very one-sided view (So much for all your hopes to do it right). Instead show him that you have a good grasp on the situation and that you are going to help him get to the bottom of the situation. There are things he can do to make your job easier too; e.g. records in the Council Office, information on prior complaints (if any), ideas, knowledge about Council, Regional and National policies, etc. In most cases the DE will be relieved that you are going to do some of the tough stuff and happy to have input. (We all know that no DE, DC, ADC or UC is perfect and that some may want to jump the gun, but this is going to happen anyway, so why not do your best to cut down on the chances or minimize the risk by taking the team approach? Once folks acknowledge team membership they’re less likely to take independent action.)

7. Now that you have a team assembled and know what questions to ask, what are you really going to do? Situations like this always require a lot of judgment and each of us sees things a little differently. So please realize that there are many right answers depending on the circumstances. As a minimum I think we can probably all agree that the situation needs to be followed to a conclusion. If we can get Jumpin’ Jim to understand that we don’t fire SM’s or any other leader and can get him to calm down, he can be our best asset. He can be coached to have a very private conversation with the SM. He can use several approaches. He could start by alluding to a problem similar in nature that he’s heard about elsewhere. This approach has the advantage of not being accusatory and allowing the SM to raise his own questions. However, it has the danger of being too thin, if the SM already knows about the problem and suspects that this is the issue. Another approach is ask the SM for advice on what the UC can or should do, given that he has been presented with some allegations that he’s not sure about. This allows the SM to explain misunderstandings, if there were any. Suppose for example that the Scouts were trying to do a Nickelodeon style event and all the new guys in the new patrol lost the tug of war and got drug through peanut butter and moss – no hazing, just “clean” fun. It wouldn’t do to have made an accusation only to have the peanut butter on your own face. Pardon the unforgivable pun. On the other hand Ivan may reluctantly welcome the opportunity to figure out the mess (especially, if he wasn’t on site) or at least to tell you that he has it under control (we can decide later if it is under control). And there’s always confrontation. Not usually the recommended approach, but if we end up with pretty strong evidence that something is really amiss and get a wire brush from the SM, we may have no other choice. The downside is that we know will also have to involve the Committee Chairperson and/or Chartered Organization. This could lead to a stalemate, if not carefully handled.

8. Now what? Well, if we decide the problem is still real, we need to figure out what needs to be done. Here it pays to demonstratively place trust in the real decision makers. We can let the Committee Chairperson know what we know and what our concerns are and ask for him/her to address the issue. A good many Chairpersons will do just that and pretty fairly too. After all their son’s welfare is at stake too.
9. Suppose we get the wire-brush from the Chairperson? There’s always the Chartered Organization, but this is a step that demands extreme caution. The Chartered Organization wouldn’t have approved the SM, ASMs, etc., if it didn’t have a lot of confidence in them. Before you go this far, you’d better really have your facts straight and not have a handful of allegations that are unsupported. If you really don’t have a strong case, you could end up alienating them and they could decide its too much trouble to charter a unit. The boys get hurt and the problem still isn’t solved.

10. Now its clear after walking through these possibilities that maybe another approach would be to focus on making sure that all of the leaders have current training including YPP. It might also be useful to invite the SM to participate in SM Fundamentals instead of taking him on. You know the old wisdom that nothing teaches like having to teach others.

11. One other thing that I have deliberately left until last, because the facts were not meant to directly suggest a true YPP problem is the issue of YPP. If we find that the information gives us reason to believe that abuse or molestation did occur in the hazing, etc., at any point in the resolution process, then it is mandatory for the Scout Executive to be informed and he in turn must contact appropriate youth protection agencies in the jurisdiction(s) involved. If this is so, it will have a profound effect on how the matter is resolved. From that point on, the Scout Executive will have to run the show. There is no way that you want to interfere in any State investigation or inquiry. In fact, if you do, you may be subject to criminal sanctions. Once the flag goes up on this issue, the Commissioner Staff will still have a role to play in assessing leadership, training, etc., and in working with the Chartered Organization and Committee to help keep the troop on its feet, but this will have to be coordinated with the Scout Executive.

12. Remember that this was a hypothetical situation and solution. Each situation you confront in the Commissioner’s Service will be unique. And while there are some things that we can learn from an exercise, each situation also will require judgment. And finally, I must also remind the list that in formulating the hypothetical and the hypothetical solution(s), I am not speaking on behalf of the BSA and am simply offering my own observations for the purposes of discussion. In a real situation, I would be the first to strongly urge you to discuss the matter with your District Commissioner and District Executive and to obtain any professional advice warranted. I appreciate your contributions, ideas and thoughts on this case. I think that we all profit from the many different viewpoints on the list and this is no exception.


View #2

What do you do?

Well Jim… As I see it this hazing issue needs to be addressed. I’m assuming that the story checks out ? You’ve asked the kids how camp went and heard sone stories thast concern you … What I hear you say is there has not been a ” complaint ” but a few kids are unhappy. I know you have built up a relationship with Ivan, but this could be a tough counseling job. Are you OK dealing with that ?
You will need to work out a line you are comfortable with. But try not to be too judgmental. This guy has good points too. OK, he’s a bit of a dinosaur and not the most sensitive of characters. But he’s got a big troop, which means he must have something the kids like.
Why not get Ivan round home, just the two of you. Take the phone off the hook or switch on the answering machine. Sit him down and ask him how the last campout went. Hopefully he would say something about the ” initiation ” which would show what his feeling were. If not a question like ” What’s this I heard about swamp monsters ? ” might be an opening gambit. I’d then point out that BSA has strict Youth Protection Guidelines – how did he think that they applied in this situation ?

Of course Ivan might say something like ” Yeah, I know, don’t shower at the same time as the kids. What’s that got to do with the kids having a bit of fun and initiating the new kids. Makes a man of em … never did me any harm, why when I was a lad … ”

If it were me { and I nearly said those forbidden words ” If I were you” then … } I’d tell my true personal story about how as a young Scout I was the victim of such an experience, and was so upset that I very nearly quit and had my parents bring me home. The stress also brought on an asthma attack. I might add that I still despise the Scoutmaster who condoned it nearly thirty years on, so deep was the impression it made on me.

[ Incidentally, I swore at age eleven that if I ever became a Scoutmaster this bullying would not happen in my troop. It didn’t. I’m fairly easy-going, but all my Scouts knew that this sort bullying get them on the next train home.]

I guess if I were talking to Ivan I’d also point out that if a kid got injured or somebody complained he’s on his own. BSA won’t back him if he breaches YPG. He’s up sticky creek without a paddle. Very messy. These days juries in the US can make some very nice awards for ” psychological distress ” and parents know this. Or what if one of the guys smeared in peanut butter is sensitive to bug bites or gets bitten by a critter ? Or, like I did, has an asthma attack ? Can you imagine taking a kid covered with peanut butter and moss into the emergency room ? That would get the troop noticed.

But you will have to work out an approach you are happy with. I nearly used the words ” if I were you ” a few minutes ago. Don’t do that with Ivan. I’m not you, and you’re not Ivan. There are a lot of right ways to do things in Scouting, but what works for me might not work for you or Ivan.

OK, I think you share my personal view that any adult who permits this sort of bullying is a pretty poor Leader, and needs to be straightened out or else thrown out. You feel he must be pretty insensitive not to realize the risk of emotional damage to kids who may already be apprehensive, if not actually homesick, and are not used to camp routine. This is the reality with most boys on their first Scout camp, even if they hide it. And the tough guys often hurt the most inside.

But you won’t help him by yelling and screaming. Keep calm. Listen. Try not to get mad … and if you “do” get mad back off. Say you need to go to the bathroom and cool off there.

But remember your job is to help him , not to dump on him like a ton of bricks. He may genuinely not know, or understand, how what in ” my days ” were traditional troop initiations are now regarded as hazing and even as psychological abuse. It sounds like the whole unit leadership would benefit from YPG training. I’d ask the Chairman if you could arrange a session for them all, the Committee and the Leaders. Possibly go to a PLC (by prior invitation) and discuss the issue of YPG with the Scouts.

If after that Ivan still doesn’t get the message and initiations continue he may have to go … but that’s not our decision. But we’ll talk about that if the problem arises.

Now then , Jim. regarding the dungeons and dragons … Let me say that I can’t see a problem if the Scouts “decided” to have a weekend away without any advancement. You look surprised. Well, I see it this way :

Many kids today are under immense pressures to do compete and succeed. They are expected to be A grade students, on the winning sports team, sing solo in the choir and if they are a Scout to make Eagle before they are thirteen. OK, I exaggerate … but some parents do pressurize their kids. Some kids are so programmed they never stop running from one activity to the next. And a few crack up under the strain, or take drugs or sniff glue.

So I believe that at times it is quite legitimate to have a ” fun ” weekend away with your friends at camp, just being buddies and having a good time. Did the PLC “plan” to have an easy weekend ? If so, that is fine provided that elsewhere in the troop program there are opportunities to advance.

OK Jim, “get up of the floor”, have another coffee and let’s look at the facts …

Do you think there is actually an ” advancement problem ” with troop 666 ?

Get out the Advancement Reports for the past six months. Have about 75% of the Scouts earned a rank or a merit badge ? I’d say that was good. Less than 50% I’d be concerned and ask questions about their program planning.

Look at the number of Eagle Scouts the troop has produced … there must be some advancement. Although I’d be worried if all the Eagles were the sons of Leaders or Committee people, because that might suggest that some kids were being coached and pushed, whilst the other kids were left bouncing basketballs in the school gym. Sadly it does happen.

Look at the troop’s camping record. Have they participated in Camporees and Council activities ? Are there adventurous activities for the older Scouts, maybe a Venture Crew ? Have all last year’s new Scouts been away on at least one weekend camp ? Or most of them ?

But it’s worth keeping a discrete eye on things. Maybe ask Ivan and the SP/L what their camping plans for the year are. Turn the conversation to last year and see how they thought it went.

You might want to talk to the ASMs quietly. They are keen , but they need to realize that if you push Scouts too hard they often burn out and quit. I like the support vs challenge theory. If you are teaching a kid to swim and throw him into twelve feet of water that’s pretty strong on challenge. Often he will start to swim. But if not, you’d better be prepared to jump in quick, and get wet in the process.

But if you put him in the three feet end with a rubber ring and hold his hand that’s pretty good for support, but at some stage you have to take away the rubber ring and let him swim on his own. Otherwise there’s no challenge.

Well, I guess being a Scoutmaster is like that. If you don’t challenge the boys they get bored and quit. If you put on too much pressure the challenge becomes an insuperable obstacle – and they quit. You need to know the kids and challenge them to reach just beyond their grasp.

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