Get the Message
By John Clark
How can the BSA's adult leaders and Scout parents spot the warning signs of child abuse and keep it from happening? Watch and learn.
In the 10 years since the BSA last produced a video to train adult leaders on its youth-protection guidelines, a few things have changed. Fashions. Hairstyles. And technology.
A decade ago, how many people owned cell phones that doubled as still or video cameras? How many anticipated the advent of YouTube? How many had ever heard the term “cyber-bullying”?
The cultural landscape has changed. So has the nature of the Boy Scouts of America’s emphasis on its youth-protection training program—just in time for the observance of Youth Protection Month in April.
Moving beyond an emphasis on the characteristics, behaviors, and signs of abuse, the new video training focuses on spotting violations of the BSA’s Youth Protection Guidelines. And though identifying abuse remains part of the training, it’s no longer the main focus.
Members of the BSA’s Media Studio recently teamed with a crew of professional filmmakers for a daylong collaboration that resulted in a new video training program. It’s a contemporary, real-world presentation of strategies for implementing every aspect of the youth-protection guidelines.
On the soundstage of Dallas-based MPS Studios, actors played the roles of a chartered-organization representative and two adult Scout leaders discussing the Youth Protection Guidelines—in depth.
The set was nothing fancy: a simulated living room with prop furniture, shelves of knick-knacks, and a window frame that dangled from support beams.
Painstaking care, though, went into crafting the 30-page script. Peter Simon, a senior producer/writer with the BSA’s audio/visual team directed the action.
Other than attempting to evoke realistic performances, Simon was intent on getting the messages right.
“Because protecting our youth ranks so high on the BSA’s list of values, and this is such an important element of training, we wanted to make sure the video articulates to volunteers the Youth Protection Guidelines and what to do when a guideline is violated in such a way that they can’t possibly be misunderstood,” he said.
Simon had help getting the messages right. He deferred often to the silver-haired John Patterson, who drafted the original treatment and provided its key instructional points.
A former senior program director at the Leesburg, Va.-based Nonprofit Risk Management Center and now a private consultant to major companies on youth-protection issues, Patterson was a constant presence on the set. He listened to the actors’ dialogue on headphones and watched their body language on a TV monitor.
Matching spoken words with those in the script, Patterson tweaked the text for accuracy, as well as to consistently convey the meanings in the guidelines.
“The emphasis here,” Patterson explained during a break, “needs to be on the prevention of child abuse within the Scouting program.”
A pioneer in youth-protection awareness, the BSA established a set of guidelines for its leaders and parents more than 20 years ago. The guidelines are intended to help Scouters ensure the safety of youth members by “working closely with chartered organizations to help recruit the best possible leaders for their units.”
Still, the new video takes a fresh approach. “While some programs wait until the abuse happens and talk about how to identify and report it,” Patterson said, “we want to intervene before it takes place.”
Jim Terry, the BSA’s assistant Chief Scout Executive and chief financial officer, agrees. He believes the new video helps adult volunteers better understand how to provide a safe climate for young people, not just on camping trips, but in every aspect of the program.
“We’re in it for the protection,” Terry said. “We want to make sure we offer the very best and most up-to-date information to our leaders. And we’re going to strive toward getting every adult to take this training.”
Teaching takes place through give-and-take conversations that illustrate points covered by the guidelines. It also suggests ways in which the adults can talk with Scouts.
During a discussion of how they might identify a sexual abuser, for example, the actors convey the message that “you can’t tell a child abuser by how they look.”
“In most cases,” the dialogue explains, “they’re actually ordinary looking people, so we can’t really ‘look’ for child abusers. What we can look for, though, are people who don’t follow the rules.”
The BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting covers the rules. But the new video goes beyond the bullet points.
It presents insight into how leaders and parents can communicate with kids in real-life situations. And Patterson suggests it addresses the major problem in dealing with abuse.
“Complacency is one of the things that creeps in when you think you’ve gotten on top of a problem,” he said. “Then, you’re not as diligent in pursuing the training or getting the information to the kids. And that opens the door for abuse to take place.
“What the leaders need to do to protect the kids is observe the behavior of others. And when they’re not following the rules—two-deep leadership, no one-on-one contact, setting up situations that intrude on a kid’s privacy—they can intervene.”
Facing the facts
If all that sounds as though some of the topics might be a little creepy, Patterson agrees. But he believes sitting through the video will be time well spent.
“It’s worth a little discomfort to help kids be better protected and to encourage them, when they’re confronted with situations that have the potential for harm, to seek help from the adults in their lives,” he said. “I think it’s an important message and one we shouldn’t back away from.”
Expect to spend about 45 minutes completing the video training. At the end, you’ll be asked to take a 25-question quiz to determine how well you’ve grasped the concepts.
Districts will have copies of the video on DVD, along with compatible printed material, but you can also view it online at www.scouting.org/healthandsafety.
Even if you’ve already fulfilled your requirement to complete Youth Protection training, Terry urges every Scout leader and Scout parent to check out the new approach.
“It’s a way for them to better understand what the standards are. Then they can say, ‘This is the way we operate our unit, by these standards,’” he said.
Patterson admits there might not be any perfect solutions when someone enters the program intent on victimizing kids. “But I feel certain that by rigorously following the guidelines, you’ve greatly reduced the opportunities for an individual like that to perpetrate the abuse.”
John Clark is Scouting magazine's senior editor.