What you need to know about legal liability

Note: I am not a lawyer and I am not giving legal advise. If your troop does not have a lawyer as a resource please, please, please find someone who is local and willing to donate their services.

In Scouting, which is three-quarters outing, there is a lot of opportunity for people to become injured and for leaders to make errors in judgement. When mistakes happen that result in injury you, other leaders, the chartered organization, and the BSA can be sued. Civil suits are about money so the people doing the suing (typically parents and guardians) will go wherever the money is. Fortunately there are some simple ways to reduce the personal cost of such a situation by reducing legal liability.

The first thing to know is that the BSA will spend its time and treasure defending you as a leader if you were fully trained and you followed the training at the time of the incident. If you were not fully trained, you are on your own. If you did not follow the training you received, you are on your own. This is why the BSA spends so much time promoting and requiring training. Further, the BSA training programs are adjusted and improved each year based on the court cases brought against the organization and its leaders. The best way to limit your liability as a leader in Scouting is to get trained and to follow that training.

The second thing to know is that we are a contract-heavy society and it is straightforward to require parents and guardians to sign an activity consent form for every activity a Scout participates in. This contract can and should include a waiver of liability for the leaders and chartered organization. These documents will hold up in court so long as they were complete in describing the various aspects of the outing. For example, if the troop decides to go swimming during a bike-ride and a scout drowns, the activity consent form is useless if it does not include swimming as part of the activity.

In creating or improving the activity consent form for your troop you can search for what other units use and start there. I strongly recommend you have the document reviewed by a lawyer on a periodic basis and implement any recommendations. Even if the unit must pay for this service, it is money extremely well spent if there is ever a need for the document in court.

YIS, Jeff

Scoutmaster Succession Planning

The day will come when your unit needs a new Scoutmaster. If your unit has done little planning and preparation a Scoutmaster search can be really painful. I think all Scoutmasters and Committee Chairs have heard of (or experienced) some really trying times when it was time to find a new Scoutmaster. I, personally, was contacted and asked to become Scoutmaster of the troop I was a member of as a young man and, at the time, I had no adult scouter experience, which shows how hard it was for that troop.
If your unit is prepared, the transition will go something like this:
  1. The Scoutmaster let's the Committee Chair know of his retirement plan
  2. The Committee Chair and Scoutmaster review the preparedness of the candidates they have been groomed for the position (generally Assistant Scoutmasters)
  3. The Committee Chair reviews the list with the Chartered Organization Representative to make sure he or she is comfortable with the adults on the list
  4. The candidates are asked in order of priority
  5. One of them, feeling prepared for the job and having considered it before, accepts the position
  6. There is transition time since the replacement was already ready
  7. The transition is rather seamless since the new Scoutmaster is trained and ready
With some work ahead of time, the horror stories are easily avoided and the unit reaps the benefits of volunteer development year-round, not just when the Scoutmaster is ready to leave.
Now you are probably wondering how to achieve this ideal experience, since so few troops actually get an experience like this. A basic process for succession planning is below. Note that succession planning is the responsibility of the trifecta: The Chartered Organization Representative, the Committee Chair, and the current Scoutmaster.
  1. The most important step in an easy succession plan is to plan for succession starting on the first day a new Scoutmaster is in the position... Be Prepared, right?
  2. Identify the adults with the right qualities and characteristics for the troop
  3. Determine what skills those candidates have and what skills they need to develop
  4. Create a simple development plan for each adult
  5. Give each adult the resources and experiences they need to develop the skills in the development plan
  6. Every year, review the candidates on the list. Add new adults if appropriate and remove those that are no longer considered a good fit.
  7. Review or create development plans, and start again to give the resources and experiences needed for development
  8. When a candidate reaches a certain level of skill proficiency and dedication to the troop, it is worthwhile to talk to them about whether they have ever considered being a Scoutmaster. This will get them thinking about it should the day come when they are asked to step up.
You are probably thinking that this looks rather easy though the work is really hidden in numbers 4 & 5. If so, you are right. Here is an example development plan for Joe Scouter who is an ASM.
Scoutmaster Development Plan - Joe Scouter
What makes Joe a good fit: Joe has strong values that are aligned with scouting values. He has been an Assistant Scoutmaster for a year and is enjoying the position. He has some basic, positive rapport with the scouts and we can imagine him being successful in the Scoutmaster position.
What skills does Joe need to develop:
  • Presentation skills: he can be really "long winded"
  • Outing leadership
  • Mentoring scouts in leadership positions
Resources & experiences plan:
    • Joe should create and deliver some Scoutmaster Minutes
    • Joe should be the leader in charge of an event like Camporee, Winter Camp, or another multi-night outing
    • Joe should act as a patrol adviser to gain experience coaching scouts in leadership
    • We should encourage Joe to go to Woodbadge this year
As you can see, this development plan is really simple and easy to figure out. If you can follow through on it, there will be huge benefits to the troop, regardless of whether the Scoutmaster decides to step down. Congratulations if you are already in this position with your troop. If your troop is not in this position, I encourage you to start succession planning or to refocus on it in an upcoming month. Getting started and investing over time pay huge dividends.
If you would like more information, ideas, tips, or help with this succession planning system add a comment below or use the Contact Me page.
YIS, Jeff