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Volunteer Screening

Not Everyone Is Suitable To Lead

by Bryon Milliere - The Leader, October 1996

Our Scouting Promises refer to honour, duty, and doing our best. As adults we have a duty to provide safe programs for youth members.

In recent months, the media has related stories of terrible offenses perpetrated on children by adults in positions of trust. Sadly, these individuals seek out opportunities to get close to children for the purpose of harming them. We must protect those children in our care. This article continues a series the Leader began last spring dealing with the subject of child abuse and what you can do about it.

Scouting is committed to ensuring the safety of youth in our programs. Thanks to research by the Canadian Association of Volunteer Bureaux, Scouts Canada has reviewed its programs and recruitment strategies to improve our competence at volunteer screening.

Last year, Program and Volunteer Services published a booklet entitled Volunteer Recruitment and Development that outlined our strategy for

  1. selecting the right person for a role,
  2. supporting that person's development through service and training,
  3. evaluating performance and
  4. recognizing contributions.
This booklet was helpful for understanding the life cycle of volunteering and the roles of people who support volunteers throughout their development.

Over 60,000 adult volunteers serve Canadian Scouting youth invarious roles. The vast majority of these adults are worthy of the trust parents give them for the care and saety of their children.

The Screening Process

Child sexual abuse is the crime most people think of when discussing the need to screen volunteers. But it's also important to screen out other individuals. Perhaps they pose another risk to children, or their abilities simply don't match their Scouting role.

Values have changed significantly regarding acceptable means of sidciplining children. While corporal punishment may have been considered reasonable 30 years ago, adults today must learn non-contact approaches to disciplining and communicating with young pelple. As an organization concerned with the welfare of children, we must teach those adults wanting to learn creative new approaches. Some volunteers may prove unacceptable to us because they either;

The Right Stuff

At a time when volunteers seem scarce, why would Scouting create yet more barriers to adult membership, as it will through screening?

The answer is simple. We want to do a better job protecting youth. It also takes much more effort and resources to deal with problems that arise from poor recruiting, than to ensure the right people take on the responsibilities that suit them best. You are not obliged to accept everyone who wants to volunteer, however, you are obliged to do everything reasonable to protect the children in your care. Screening is a form of discrimination that is supported (in fact required) by law.

Volunteer screening focuses primarily on the recruitment phase of the process. But is also affects volunteers at every other stage of their involvement with youth. A volunteer may prove unacceptable at any time in his or her Scouting career if we continue applying the criteria used for screening new recruits.

Given these broader screening objectives, it is clear that effective volunteer screening involves much more than just a police record check. When the Solicitor General announced that the RCMP's criminal data base would be available to volunteer organizations for identifying dangerous individuals, he emplasized the need for a comprehensive screening approach. Police record checks may be a reasonable step, depending on an individual volunteer's role, but proper screening involves much more.

Scouting already incorporates many of the eleven elements identified by the Volunteer Bureaux as important to an effective screening strategy. You are affected by each of these elements.

11 Steps To Proper Screening

These steps set out the path you should take when designing your volunteer screening procedure.
  1. Design the job with safety in mind.
  2. Define the task clearly in the job description.
  3. Recruit selectively.
  4. Interview Candidates.
  5. Check their references.
  6. Consider police record checks.
  7. Begin an orientation and probation period.
  8. Provide supervision.
  9. Educate your children to protect themselves.
  10. Provide safe programming training.
  11. Evaluate volunteer progress.

Job Design

Our programs are designed to minimize risks to children partly through adequate leadership ratios, so children are properly supervised. This reduces (or eliminates) the amount of time a single adult is alone with a child out of view from others. The ratios also help protect leaders from unwarranted suspicion. Scouting's requirements to provide weparate sleeping accommodations are aimed at protecting our youth. Each program is under review to identify risks, and actions which minimize these risks.

Job Description

Clear expectations help epople to screen themselves. Well written job descriptions should outline,

Recruitment Procedures

In your enthusiasm to sign up new adult leaders, you can frustrate your screening objectives by taking anyone who will say "yes". When recruiting, make sure that Scouting's Mission and our duty to provide safe programs form important components of your message.

The adult volunteer application states Scouting's Mission and outlines our Principles. Point these out to the candidate. The application also asks personal information and gives permission to question references.

A Face-to-Face Interview

Meeting an individual face-to-face to discuss Scouting roles is critical. Do this before involving them in the program. Interviewers should follow a specific format to make sure they cover all questions adequately. Remember: the interview should be two-way and allow an opportunity for both seasoned leaders and the recruit to give and receive information. This process should weed out those persons who are obviously unsuitable. It should also identify those who have a specific agenda or rigid notions about how children should be treated. National Council is developing resources to help novice interviewers through this process.

Reference Checks

Be sure to follow up on references provided by volunteers. Insist on at least three. Don't forget to contact other organizations the person has worked for (including Scouting groups). Not all references will give glowing accounts of the would-be volunteer -- especially when they understand the person's future role working with children.

Police Record Checks

Scouting wants to screen out individuals with dangerous behaviour patterns. These might include,

Police record checks may help identify these people.

If the potential for harm is great (e.g. an adult is often alone with one youth unsupervised, or a volunteer is an unknown adult in the community), police record checks are particularly important. Each police department determines the process for obtaining a record check.

Don't rely solely on the police record check. Only people with a criminal record are on file. Use it as only one part of your overall screening strategy.

Orientation and Probation

Following the initial interview, direct volunteers towards orientation activities such as an introduction to Scouting evening or other familiarization events.

Orientation sessions are an integral part of recruitment. They not only provide opportunities for new volunteers to learn more about their roles, but also let other adult members get to know them on a social level. A refusal or unwillingness to participate in these activities should raise concern.

Once you're satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to confirm the acceptability and match of the new Scouter with a specific task, confirm the appointment. But don't think the screening process ends here.


One of the most effective methods for assessing an individual involves watching him or her "in action". Those filling volunteer management positions (e.g. group committee member, troop Scouter, commissioner, president) have a responsibility to assess and coach others under their direction. If an individual demonstrates that he or she is clearly unacceptable for a role, volunteer managers should act decisively to remove the person from the position. Follow the same criteria used to recruit the volunteer for the role.

Youth Education

Many schools are training youth to recognize acceptable conduct. Children who know the difference between good and bad touching and who can recognize inappropriate behaviour from adults are better able to protect themselves. Program and Volunteer Services is reviewing professional child protection programs that may be used Scouting to educate our young members.


Effective training will help volunteers communicate better with youth. Training is part of the screening process. It will provide yet another opportunity to interact with the leader.

Personal attitudes are difficult to change. Trainers must be able to recognize attitudes that are inconsistent with Scouting's Mission and Principles or attitudes that put children at risk.


All of us like to know how we are doing. Be sure to provide constructive feedback to new volunteers. It should relate to the job description and the expectations you established during recruitment. Use this as an opportunity for some objective assessment, feedback, consideration of training needs and team-building.

Every adult member plays an important role ensuring our youth receive safe programming from trust-worthy Scouters. It is our duty to apply proper screening methods for all positions of trust. Commit yourself to learning how to become part of Scouts Canada's safe programming. Together we can improve our ability to select and retain the right person for the right job.

"Reproduced with permission of the Leader magazine and the author."

Disclaimer: Anything posted to this Home Page
are the opinions of the individuals who posted them
and are not the views of Scouts Canada.