Guides and Scouts
I've been involved with the Guide Association for a long time, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it thanks to the wonderful leaders that I've known, all of whom are volunteers who give up their time (often large amounts of it) freely. It's always difficult finding adults who are prepared to commit to helping on a regular basis in order to keep a group going, and many units have closed due to lack of support from the parents. For many people, spending a night a week helping to run a unit is a big commitment. I did it for a number of years, although I'm not a parent, and for me it involved a 30-mile round trip on a bicycle every Tuesday, so it can be hard work. But it's fun, and it's great seeing the young people you're working with make friends, learn skills and achieve something new. It is supposed to be fun, after all.
But still, leaders are hard to find and, in the UK, recent legislation regarding child protection has made things worse. Now, anyone who works with children on a day to day basis (teachers, childcare workers, nurses and so on) have to be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau. But this also applies to volunteers working in youth groups such as the Guides and Scouts. This can put people off volunteering altogether and is only making the situation worse. This, from an article in the Times yesterday:
"Our research also indicates that the current obsession with adult misbehaviour has a destructive impact on volunteering to work with children. When asked if they knew anybody who had been put off by the CRB process, 28 per cent said that they did."
I understand that people worry about their children, but the more barriers that are put up and the more hoops you have to jump through before becoming a leader, the fewer people are going to go through with it. This will mean more Guide units close due to lack of adult leaders (you can't run a unit with one adult in charge) and then what will the kids do? The parents would be the first to complain.
The most ridiculous bit about the whole thing is summed up by this quote, again from the Times article:
A volunteer involved in girl guiding said that it all makes you a lot more wary about child protection. "That's detrimental to your relationship with the children, because you can't give an upset Rainbow [guide] a cuddle and they don't quite understand why." Another guider said that "sometimes a Brownie just needs a cuddle when they are away from home for the first time, and I know many adults who won't do this as they are scared it will be perceived wrongly".
I remember being that Brownie, away from home for the first time, being upset and having a very comforting hug from the Guider in charge (who, incidentally, continued to run the unit until very recently retiring and with whom am I still great friends today).
Here in Australia, I enquired about joining the Guides as a leader, but I never heard back from them. Luckily, the second weekend I was here, the Scouts were having a big city-wide event as part of their celebrations of 100 years of Scouting in Australia and I came across a group of leaders running an activity base on the south shore of the Swan River. As a result of that chance encounter, I am now applying to be a leader with my nearest Scout Troop instead.
They are a great bunch of kids with enormous amounts of energy and enthusiasm, and the leaders are great, too. In just three weeks I've been to three meetings at their hut, a hike and a weekend camp! Even though the camp was a washout, everything and everyone got absolutely soaked, and we had to put up the tents in the dark and the rain, we all had a great time.
But here too, there are barriers that would put some people off. The equivalent of the CRB check is the Working with Children card, which I've applied for. It takes six weeks to come back. There is also a lot of paperwork to complete, an interview with people from district, and compulsory training to do, but from what I hear, the training is good fun and involves a lot of camping! Sounds right up my street.
I'll keep volunteering because I enjoy it (as Womble says "it's a game, when it stops being fun, stop doing it!"), but I wonder how many have been put off already?