When Boy Scouts of America announced on Tuesday that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, youth development professionals had various responses.
It’s always disappointing to have a youth development organization struggling, said Nancy Deutsch, professor at the University of Virginia and director of its Youth-Nex center, which focuses on out-of-school time, education systems and community engagement.
The Boy Scouts of America faces lawsuits from several thousand men who said that they were molested in the program years ago and are able to sue now because of changes in state laws lengthening the statutes of limitation.
“The circumstances are incredibly distressing and upsetting,” Deutsch said. “I hope the men are able to get help and support and compensation.”
At the same time, the need is great for organizations that offer mentoring for young people and provide supportive relationships with adults, she said.
“We need to have a lot of variety in the types of programs accessible to young people” in order to meet their needs and interests, she said.
“It’s always disappointing when the number of options decreases,” she said.
To Gil Noam, founder and director of the PEAR Institute: Partnerships in Education and Resilience, the Boy Scouts is at a crossroads. It needs to undertake “a true reckoning, deep apology, change of all procedures and fair compensation,” he wrote in an email. Bankruptcy sends the wrong message because it continues to deal with the exploitation of young people tactically, he said.
Noam, a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, is a youth development researcher and mental health professional focusing on trauma in children and adolescents.
The Boy Scouts needs to apply the principles it supposedly espouses — honesty, empathy, strength of leadership and commitment to community, Noam said.
Boy Scouts, which began 110 years ago, was one of the original youth development organizations.
Noam said it has a great tradition and has been updating itself to become a force in modern youth development field.
Deutsch said it has made changes that give it “the potential to be a strong role model.”
In 2015 the organization reversed its policy against gay Scout leaders. In 2017 it made the decision to admit members based on their gender identity, allowing for transgender boys to join. It also began to admit girls.
“Those were positive trends responding to contemporary shifts in society,” Deutsch said.
The actions cost the organization support in some corners.
“They took a stand,” Deutsch said, even in the face of local council opposition.
The Mormon Church ended its 105-year-old relationship with the Boy Scouts, taking 400,000 Scouts away.
The Boy Scouts said in a statement that 90% of the sexual abuse cases that are pending came from more 30 years ago.
The organization has put into place “multilayered policies to keep kids safe,” wrote Jim Turley, national chair, in an open letter to victims this week.