Boy Scouts of America plans to institute a new requirement that every adult — including parents with their own kids — must undergo a background check and youth protection training before participating in any Scouting activity that runs for more than 72 hours.
The change, to take effect at the start of the Scouts’ summer camping season June 1, is a marked expansion of the requirement, which currently only applies to registered adult volunteers, such as troop leaders.
The new standards could be further tightened in the future, to require the training for any participating adult, according to an online announcement of the changes.
The training consists of a one-hour online course about protecting children from sexual molestation and other dangers, especially during high-risk activities like overnight camping.
“This is meant to enhance the ‘safe space’ for overnight Boy Scout activities,” the Scouts said in an online statement. “While incidents are rare, this will serve as an added layer of protection for our highest risk activities.”
The new policy applies only to Boy Scouts, generally age 11 and up, rather than Cub Scouts, who are younger.
The Scouts already strongly recommends that all adults involved in Scouting take youth protection training. The Scouts also require mandatory reporting to local authorities of any suspicion or belief that a child has been physically or sexually abused or threatened.
Boy Scouts of America released a statement late Wednesday calling youth safety “our primary responsibility” and one that “requires sustained vigilance.”
“We consistently evaluate and reinvest resources where needed to strengthen our policies to ensure they are ahead of or in line with society’s knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention,” the statement continued. “We also regularly consult with experts from law enforcement, child safety, psychology, and other relevant fields.”
The organization said it has expanded its youth protection training to cover the prevention of child neglect, emotional abuse and exposure to violence, “which experts agree are important to address in order to help keep youth safe.”
In years past, the Boy Scouts have been accused of covering up or ignoring repeated cases of sexual abuse of youths by adults.
The Los Angeles Times in 2012 reviewed 3,100 Scout case summaries of abuse complaints submitted from 1947 to 2005, and found hundreds of failures to report molesters, and a resistance to criminal background checks that let pedophiles into the organization. Offenders included trusted people such as doctors, lawyers, politicians and police. In many cases, the offenders spent time alone with their victims, a practice long prohibited by the Scouts.
From the time national background checks became widely available in 1985 until 1991 alone, the Boy Scouts admitted more than 230 men with previous arrests or convictions for sex crimes against children, who were later accused of molesting nearly 400 boys in Scouting, the Times reported.
The Boy Scouts did not require criminal background checks for all volunteers until 2008 — long after some other youth organizations started doing so.
The organization has tightened requirements for training adults and protecting children. Scouting officials have said previously that they have enhanced their policies over the years and tried “to ensure we are in line with and, where possible, ahead of society’s knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention.”
“Numerous independent experts have recognized that our programs for protecting Scouts from abuse are among the best in the youth-serving community,” the statement said.
Peter Janci, an attorney in Portland, Ore., who participated in a nearly $20 million judgment against the Scouts over allegations of sexual abuse in 2010, said the requirements, which are common for school field trips and other youth settings, were long overdue.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “Making sure they’ve vetted adults… can be helpful for a lot of reasons.”
Educating parents about warning signs of pedophiles, such as being alone with kids, giving them special attention or crossing social boundaries, can help to prevent abuse, Janci said.