Keep your Scouts safe during this pandemic
By Caroline H. Rudisill
BE PREPARED: The Scout Motto guides us in our Scouting journey.
No one expected this particular journey, yet here we are––Scouting from home and finding new ways to engage while still remaining socially distant as data changes and individual states adjust their guidelines.
In all we do, youth protection guidelines must be followed. The Guide to Safe Scouting provides the framework for our interactions, whether troop, pack, crew, or ship.
Coping with uncertainty
We face challenges in providing consistent, quality programs for our Scouts, not for lack of content, but because we now have constraints in time, distance, venue, and distribution. Meetings and events are being canceled or postponed, and each week plans are in flux. It can be maddening, and we all are feeling the tension associated with the uncertainty we face.
This tension is not just frustrating for adult leaders and charter partners. This is a major upheaval for our Scouts who depend on the consistency of the program. Our Scouts are isolated from their friends at school and other activities, and the uncertainty of the times adds to their stress. The world has turned upside down for our youth and coping with the changes takes care and understanding.
This pandemic isolation is temporary. We, as leaders and parents, need to remember that, reassure our Scouts of the same, and accept that these are uncharted waters for everyone.
Signs of PTSD
While we will see stressful reactions in the short-term, those same reactions will still be present long-term. Some level of post-traumatic stress disorder is likely to be present for the majority of our youth and adults. Trying to find relief from the stress can lead to excessive eating, exercise, or sleeping. Be aware of the changes in behavior of those around you, and of yourself, which may be outside normal levels.
Older siblings may suddenly be responsible for feeding and caring for their brother and sisters all day. Do they have the skills and supplies to do so? Support them where you can.
Families at risk
In reality, many of our youth and their families are at great risk. They are experiencing homelessness, job changes or loss, lack of food and medical care, and/or suffering from sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. At-risk youth and families, in times of additional strife, are especially vulnerable.
Quarantine with an abuser puts the youth in inescapable peril. Polyvictimization (suffering from more than one abuse) is highly likely. How do we help them? There are several ways to report abuse or suspected abuse.
As part of the “Scouts First” approach to the protection and safety of youth, Scouts BSA established the Scouts First Helpline (1-844-SCOUTS1) as a dedicated 24-hour helpline to receive reports of known or suspected abuse or behavior that might put youth at risk. Trained personnel will answer the call.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides information about child safety online, including conversation starters, tip sheets, and interactive videos. Awareness of online safety and protocol is especially important as much more time is spent online than ever before.
If a Scout, adult leader, family or community member is suicidal, call the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255). Trained personnel are available 24 hours a day and will respond.
A two-person communication channel
Does your unit have lines of communication for Scouts to report problems? Do your Scouts know how to report abuse, or who will respond? Is there a way to do that while still complying with the two-deep leadership rule? Only you can answer the first two questions. The answer to the third is “yes.”
Reports of abuse should be directed to two people (a Scout leader and a charter partner designee or two charter-partner designees). Reports can also be made to your council or through the Scouts First Helpline.
Scout leaders should also have lines of communications to their charter partners or through community outreach so they may reach out for help in times of need.
Train Scout leaders and families
Has your Unit Committee made plans for that situation? What resources are available to not just your Scouts, but your Scout families and leaders? While much emphasis is placed on basic First Aid Training and Wilderness First Aid Training, having leaders trained in Mental Health First Aid is becoming more important every day. Training is available here and here.
Scouting has entered into a remote, electronic age. Merit badge classes are being held online and are accessible from within and outside your own council. Check local councils for a list of available courses. Encourage Scouts to stay involved. Help teach a class if you can.
Parents need to continue to monitor the use of electronics by youth and observe safety rules. In this time of stress, avoid taking electronics away from children, except for safety reasons. In many ways, the only way youth can connect with each other right now is electronically, and lack of contact with friends is vital for them and their mental and social well-being.
We have a unique yet unsettling situation on our hands, with no definitive end in sight. Bear in mind that our youth are excruciatingly aware of being cut off from their normal peer support groups and are feeling that loss immensely.
If you are looking for simple guidelines to share with your Scouts, please consider the following for keeping physical and mental health in good shape during the COVID 19 pandemic:
- Stay hydrated and eat well––eat a balanced diet and drink sufficient water.
- Stick to a routine––get up, get dressed, and get started on your day.
- Get enough sleep––limit video games in the evening so your brain is ready to rest.
- Have a comfortable break––take a nap, read a book, rest in the sunshine. Adding a comfort level to your break time (whether a blanket, stuffed animal, music, swing, or warm drink) will aid in relaxation.
- Add some creative time to your day––writing in a journal, blowing bubbles, drawing or painting, playing a game will help take your mind off the stress of the current isolation.
- Exercise for 30 minutes––take a walk, ride a bike, lift weights, swim, do youtube exercise routines. Increased oxygen and blood flow will help ease tension. Spend time outside if you can. Getting enough Vitamin D is vital to overall good health.
- Get dressed––get a shower, put on your clothes, and proceed as if you are going out for your normal day. Staying in does not mean staying in your pajamas.
- Be nice––everyone is stressed, everyone is going to over-react. Be kind in how you listen and be kinder still in how you respond.
- Check on each other––a call, an email, a text. Write a letter. Send a card. Stay in touch.
- Expect behaviors to be annoying––are your family members driving you crazy? Remember they are trying to cope, just as you are, and they may need some humor, support, and silliness in their day, too.
- Notice the helpers and be one––engage in how you can help each other and your neighbors, while observing safety rules.
- Reach out if you need help or are feeling sad––friends, family, neighbors, Scout leaders, and hotlines are available.
Remember this is a temporary situation; we don’t know how long this will last, but we can control how we react and how we help others. In all things, follow the Scout Oath and Law.
Caroline H. Rudisill is a member to the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, a National UM Youth Protection advocate, and the Texas Conference Scouting coordinator.