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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?

Posted by Megan on Wednesday 02nd Jul 2008 (02:32 UTC) | 4 Comments | Permalink

Comments: Guides and Scouts

Cool - I just noticed I am your first commenter, and half a world away!

Posted by Guider on Wednesday 02nd Jul 2008 (19:47 UTC)

Hi Jen,

Yes I agree that people who work with kids are so used to it that it doesn't make a difference to them any more (I've had several other CRB checks done for various other purposes so another one didn't bother me at all). But parents who might be have been willing to help out from time to time in the past to help keep a unit running, people who don't work with kids so have never needed one before - those are the people who might be put off. It can be intimidating if you're not used to it.

It's a problem for me at work, too. It also makes it hard to find volunteers to go into schools to talk about astronomy as everyone has to go through the checks for that as well - for some people, it's just a step too far.


P.S. Your Brownie camp looks like it was fun! I hope you have better weather for the next one :-)

Posted by Megan on Wednesday 09th Jul 2008 (07:38 UTC)

It's a good point to raise in relation to astronomy, and an extra worry given that IYA is coming up and I'm sure plenty of people would love to go and talk about astronomy at their local schools.

I've got my own experience of this sort of thing. I'm a member of my son's school's PTFA. Just recently it was suggest that we all should get CRB checks. It wasn't that we had to, but it was also said that things could get very awkward if we didn't. Thing is, we don't even work with the children. We organise events, we raise money, we pay for equipment and the like, that's about it.

What I find most concerning about it all is the attitude of some parents. The ones who seem to worry the most about the safety of their children (the ones who seem to think that everyone is out to kidnap their children, or something) also seem to be the ones who think that a CRB check makes everything just fine and guarantees safety.

CRB checks for those who work one-on-one I can pretty much understand and appreciate. But for those who would never be involved in a situation that wasn't supervised anyway...

Posted by Dave Pearson on Wednesday 09th Jul 2008 (13:43 UTC)

Hi Dave,

I've heard similar experiences with members of some groups and societies being required to have CRB checks because there are kids in the membership, even if they never actually interact with the kids on a one-on-one basis.

The perceived safety provided by a CRB check seems similar to the argument for using security lighting - somebody somewhere decided that it made things safer so now everyone accepts it with not much evidence that it really does make things any safer. The check I went through here in Oz only checked for prior convictions in the state I'm living in, so people convicted of child abuse in another state, let alone another country, would be able to get a card and work with kids. I wonder whether parents are aware of this?

With school visits it does seem overkill as most visitors are never unsupervised anyway. With the inflatable planetarium, I used to make it clear to the teachers that it was their job to control the class, not mine, and that there should be two adults with each group as a minimum.

Posted by Megan on Monday 14th Jul 2008 (07:23 UTC)

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