Why has Scouts Canada abandoned training for Scout leaders?

Scouts Canada used to have a rigorous training program, but now has all but abandoned training for adult volunteers.

Shortly after Baden-Powell founded the Scout Movement, he established a training program call Wood Badge to prepare adults for their role as Scoutmasters. Obtaining the Wood Badge required spending a week of training and camping at a Scout camp near London called Gilwell Park.

Over the years, the training has changed. In particular, it was split into two parts: Wood Badge I was a full weekend of training at camp. It was the prerequisite for Wood Badge II which was a full week (sometimes 3 weekends). Scout leaders were encouraged to complete Wood Badge I during their first year as a leader and Wood Badge II before taking charge of a troop. They also started offering different Wood Badge courses for each age grouping, Beavers, Wolf Cubs, Scouts, etc.

Trainers for Wood Badge courses were required to have a Wood Badge II and significant experience in the age group that they would be training for.

By the 1990s, many Scouting units were not lead by a Scoutmaster who had completed Wood Badge II and many adults never took any training courses. However, almost all units were lead by someone who had at least completed Wood Badge I; a full weekend of outdoor training. Even if the other adults had not completed any training, they had the benefit of the knowledge of someone who had completed the full weekend. At camporees, they would be exposed to others who had completed Wood Badge II.

In response to falling training participation rates in the 2000s, Scouts Canada started trying to implement mandatory training rules. They wanted to require everyone to take Wood Badge I in their first year as a leader. They also moved to make training more accessible, such as by offering Wood Badge I courses taken as a series of evenings spent indoors in a classroom.

A shortage of trainers was addressed by lowering the standards: No longer did trainers need to have a Wood Badge II, nor did they need any experience in the age group they were training for. Often, Beaver leaders would end up training Scout leaders.

Within the past few years, Scouts Canada further tightened up on mandatory training. Completion of a Wood Badge I was required and anyone not complying would have their membership terminated at what would have been the start of their second year as a leader. Scouts Canada also introduced online training, making training even more accessible.

This may sound like an improvement: Now all adults will get Wood Badge I in their first year. But it is not: Wood Badge I is now an online course that can be completed in under two hours.

At the same time, very few Wood Badge II courses are offered, making it difficult for even motivated leaders to complete this training. When these courses are offered, it is often two weekends, instead of the previous three.

Scouts Canada makes some use of teenagers as program leaders. They used to have their own training course called Scouter-in-Training. Now, they just take the Wood Badge courses. Wood Badge, which is supposed to be adult-level training, has been watered down so much that it is considered suitable for children as young as 14 to take it.

It used to be that a typical Scouting unit was lead by someone who had at least a full weekend (and often more) of at-camp training and this training was lead by well-trained and experienced trainers. Now a typical Scouting unit has no leaders with more training than a two hour online course. This is not enough training and this is not training of high enough quality to result in high quality, safe Scouting programs. Canadian children deserve better.

Unsafe on the Water

It is not just Wood Badge training that has been cut back to the point of being useless. It used to be that Scout leaders were not allowed to take their Scouts on water activities such as canoeing unless they had a Charge Certificate from Scouts Canada.

Getting a Charge Certificate required training and experience. The details varied, but they followed this general pattern: First of all, leaders were expected to be experienced canoeists. Experienced canoeists were permitted to take the Charge Certificate course. This course was typically three hours in the classroom on an evening to cover theory, a full day of on-the-water canoeing skills learning and testing, and a full day of on-the-water rescue training and practise leading to a Lifesaving Society of Canada Boat Rescue certification. These courses were not automatically passed by simply showing up. Trainees were assessed on their skills and only passed if they met the standard.

Today, Scout leaders do not require any sort of training qualification or Charge Certificate to supervise groups of Scouts in canoeing or other water activities. In theory, the leader's Group Committee is supposed to approve any water activity, but in practise, Group Committees do not possess the expertise needed judge whether or not someone has the requisite skills to do this safely.

This is dangerous because many adults over-estimate their abilities in canoeing or other water-related skills. As well, being competent to go canoeing on your own or with your family does not mean that you are competent enough to take a large group of other people's children on the water.

This lack of training extends to other skill areas too. For example, if you want to lead a Scout archery program in the Boy Scouts of America, you need to have taken their archery qualification. In Scouts Canada, you will probably be handed the keys to the equipment shed and asked to make sure everything is put back where you found it when done.

Canadian children deserve Scout leaders who are well-trained, having received training from people who have a track record of high-quality, safe Scouting.