Group Commissioners: Creating a Culture of Youth Safety

Youth safety is much more than meeting ratios and following the rules. It’s about awareness and commitment to providing an environment where youth members can safely enjoy all of the benefits of Scouting and volunteers feel well supported. Chris Oldford, GC for the 1st Rockland Group in Voyageur Council shares some of his insights into creating a culture of youth safety.

There’s no better time to introduce Scouts Canada’s youth safety framework than during the initial interview. “It all starts with the interview,” Chris says, “I feel that by making a statement to potential volunteers that we take youth safety seriously, creates a conversation that then becomes a part of everything we do.”

Successful Group Commissioners will help volunteers understand the Volunteer Screening Policy, Code of Conduct, Child Abuse Prevention Policy, and the Bullying Harassment Policy so that it’s not just a one-time training check, but rather an ongoing conversation. This is then reiterated through Respect in Sport training, which also helps to deliver this message. By asking potential volunteers if they are willing to follow these policies, you are inviting them to be a part of your group’s safety culture.

According to Chris, once you’ve set the groundwork, the rest comes naturally. “We discuss youth safety at every Group Committee meeting,” he says, “it’s on the agenda every month.” By having Scouters discuss safety, GCs can help ensure each section has developed a Code of Conduct and is working to have parents engaged in the activities.

We discuss youth safety at every Group Committee meeting […] it’s on the agenda every month.

What drives the youth safety culture throughout the year? “It’s always a part of our Plan-Do-Review with the youth. They drive it.” From something as simple as establishing a set of rules to play a wide-area game or learning how to be safe online, youth members understand safety and what it means to be safe. They don’t like being bullied or people who treat others badly. They look to Scouters as mentors and trust their judgment. They also know when something isn’t right.

Sadly, child abuse affects one in three Canadians, so it is important to look out for the signs and symptoms of abuse and to take action to help keep youth safe. By acting in accordance of Scouting values, and by adhering to the Scouts Canada Code of Conduct, Scouters earn the trust of young people and are sometimes the first person a child, or even a young adult, will speak to. It is every Scouters responsibility to know how to respond to a disclosure of abuse.

It is also important that Scouters challenge attitudes and behaviours not consistent with Scouting values. Chris says that it was difficult for him when he first became GC to challenge some of the established norms in the group. “For example,” Chris says, “it was common to have youth do push-ups as a consequence for forgetting their dues. We felt this wasn’t in accordance with our values and did very little to fix the problem of forgetting dues – it was a joke to them. There was some dissention, but eventually we got to a place where youth were required to bring in an item for the food bank if they had forgotten their dues. Pretty soon, we had a whole new way of doing things that was extremely positive. Now, youth not only tend to be more likely to remember their dues, but they also bring items for the community food bank as well.”

Youth safety is our top priority. Group Commissioners, like Chris Oldford, are creating a culture that includes every volunteer, parent, and youth member in the group to contribute to the overall safety of our Scouting youth. If you ever have any concerns regarding the well-being of a youth, contact the Safe Scouting department at 1-800-339-6643. Thank you for doing your part!

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