The Pacific Harbors Council of the Boy Scouts of America will welcome girls into its scouting activities starting on Feb. 1. The move comes under the national group’s push to allow girls into the organization now that it has rebranded itself as more gender-neutral Scouts BSA.
Girls between the ages of 11 and 17 will be allowed to join all-girl troops and work to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank in the organization. Younger girls have been allowed to join co-ed Cub Scouts packs starting in 2018. An adult scoutmaster of the troops can be male or female, but a certified and trained female leader must be present at all times if the group includes girls. Girl and boy troops can be linked – same meeting space, troop numbers and outdoor activities – but will largely operate separately on their merit badges when they break down into their smaller unit and patrol groups. There won’t simply be co-ed troops.
“That is still a big misconception,” Pacific Harbors Council’s Commissioner for Family Scouting Amanda Lafferty said, noting that the shift is more about giving girls the opportunities to learn the lessons and values of scouting in a more family-focused way of inclusion rather than just going co-ed. “We were only servicing 50 percent of our youth. That was crazy.”
Allowing girls to participate also acknowledges a wide-spread practice in scouting of allowing siblings of scouts – regardless of gender – to participate in camping and skills activities as a way to accommodate busy families that can be torn between scout meetings for one child and the need for activities for another.
“That is a big part of why scouting has to evolve. That was happening all over the nation,” Lafferty said. “It was one of the things that national finally recognized. Families are looking for this. The curriculum is really relevant for both genders.”
The change is meant to help make scouting an activity for whole families, rather than just the boys. The move to allow middle and high school girls into the scouts was announced in late 2017. The national organization will continue with the corporate name Boy Scouts, while local units are being rebranded as Scouts BSA troops. Pacific Harbors Council, which spans Puget Sound, has about 9,000 scouts involved in environmental projects, building playgrounds and parks, collecting food for local food banks and serving their communities through its programs of developing future leaders, promoting civic engagement and environmental stewardship through its activities.
The national decision to allow girls to form troops of their own came at a time when the organization is hemorrhaging money and losing members, most notably caused by a split between the 108-year-old organization and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints over BSA’s decision to allow LGBT scout leaders to run troops. The church is establishing its own child-development program rather than comply with BSA’s decision. The 425,000 Mormon scouts made up a large percentage of scouting’s national membership of 2.3 million and will formally separate from scouting in 2020.
BSA is also teetering under its own financial debt, caused by dropping enrollment and lawsuits regarding sexual abuse allegations made by former Boy Scouts about their Scout leaders, some dating back decades, that prompted a storm of media speculation that the national organization is pondering bankruptcy protection.
“We have an important duty, and an incredible opportunity, to focus as an organization on keeping children safe, supported and protected, and preparing youth for their futures through our nation’s foremost program of character development and values-based leadership training,” wrote BSA Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh in an open letter to the organization last month. “To do so in perpetuity, we are working with experts to explore all options available to ensure that the local and national programming of the Boy Scouts of America continues uninterrupted. We have a social and moral responsibility to fairly compensate victims who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting, and we also have an obligation to carry out our mission to serve youth, families and local communities through our programs.”
Locally, enrollment slides and mounting debt has caused Pacific Harbors to shed four of its campgrounds in recent years, leaving only Camp Thunderbird, located outside of Olympia, as its only campground to serve scouts in its region from Federal Way to Chehalis.
It is unclear how the admission of girls into the BSA will affect membership of the Girl Scouts, which is a separate non-profit organization from the Boy Scouts. It is locally represented by the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, which has 25,000 members in the 17 counties in the state that it represents. The Girl Scouts operates a regional office in DuPont. The national Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts last fall, arguing that the Boy Scouts’ decision to allow girls to join infringes on its on Girl Scouts’ copyright and causes confusion in the marketplace for youth activities. Girl Scouts currently only allows girls to formally participate in its programs.
“The inclusive, all-female environment of a Girl Scout troop creates a safe space where girls can try new things, develop a range of skills, take on leadership roles, and just be themselves,” the national organization stated.