Mentors and Merit Badges
HOW SCOUTING CAN HELP BEYONDERS PARENT
Ryan* layers his shirts
on Tuesdays. The outer shirt can be nearly anything; the inner shirt is his Scout uniform.
It’s a sacrifice, wearing two shirts. Sweat runs down his face when it’s hot, and his jacket fits too snugly
to zip over two shirts when it’s cold. But he never loses his toothy grin. Tuesdays, pack 32 meets right after school.
Ryan is the only Cub Scout in the fifth grade.
Scouting is a big deal
in Ryan’s life. He is a foster child and hasn’t had many opportunities to succeed. Ryan’s bright blue eyes
and quick movements disguise his handicap: he is developmentally delayed. When he walked into our home, his only interests
were video games and The Cartoon Network. He reads at a first grade level. How do you challenge and nurture a child like that?
Pack 32 was the answer—they agreed to let Ryan enter Scouting at the Cub level. We paid his dues and
bought his uniform. Ryan became a Cub Scout.
Scouting and foster
care go together like bare feet and warm sand. Foster parents aim to make their charges feel secure. To give them self esteem.
They teach life skills to make the children self reliant. And they interact with the kids to help them trust relationships
again. That almost sounds like an ad for Scouting.
Clause 19 of the Scout Advancement Rules and Regulations allows youth members with severe mental or physical special
needs to register with a unit outside the normal age range of that type of unit. A special needs youth older than 18 can register
as a Scout or a special needs youth older than 11 as a Cub.
Severe mental or physical
special needs? That includes your emotionally fragile kids. Your ADHD and your ODD kids. Your depressed kids and your
RAD kids... as well as your kids who are developmentally delayed.
And the organization
also makes allowances for completing requirements. It extends time allowed to achieve each rank and alters the steps to earn
merits. Ryan religiously colored in the paw prints in the back of his book as he worked toward his awards.
Todd* is a Cub Scout,
too. He is almost nine. Unlike Ryan, Todd has no mental or physical handicaps. But trauma marks all foster children. Todd
has a hard time trusting adults and he is constantly in motion. ADHD is common in foster children. Because of these things,
Todd acts out.
Foster homes, especially those of
older foster parents (those I lovingly call “Beyonders”) can become places of stale routine. We’re tired
at the end of the day. We have our own interests to consider. And fostering a child is exhausting. It would be easy to allow
Todd to spend hours watching TV or playing on the computer instead of dealing with his restlessness. But he needs us to interact
with him. He needs to learn how a healthy family functions. Scouting is good for adults, too. It forces us out of our recliners
and into the back yard to play catch or to catch bugs with the kids.
Scouting is a family
activity. My husband and I gave up our Sunday afternoon naps to sand wooden race cars and monitor kids as they grated carrots
for salad. We took the kids to the museum and read books together. All for the
sake of little gold badges. To be honest, foster families—especially those
with older foster parents—sometimes aren’t active. The Scouting program not only encourages foster parents and
their foster children to do things together. It provides assistance and people who serve as mentors. The more adults who enter a foster child’s life in positive ways, the better it is for the child.
And, it gives respite to Beyonders, without the “guilt factor.” No one can be all things to all kids.
My husband Charlie was born to older parents—his mother was 46 and his father 50. Eight years
before, they had adopted a 4 year old. Charlie’s older brother had the advantage of a father who worked on cars with
him, taught him to fish and was even a Scout leader. But by the time Charlie was old enough for these things, his dad had
lost the energy to do them. Charlie was 10. His dad was 60. So Charlie’s
mechanical abilities are rudimentary and self-taught.
Charlie doesn’t the confidence required to teach these skills. And, to be honest, he’s
in the same boat his dad was when he was 10. His get up and go…you know the rest of the phrase. So we sign the foster
kids up for summer baseball, for youth football, for dance lessons…anything in which they might show an interest (and
where they’ll find a mentor.) Scouting is a perfect activity because it teaches an assortment of skills.
Ryan and Todd compete to accomplish their pack goals. Healthy competition is a good skill to learn: life
can feel like a losing proposition. Too often, foster children just give up. Or,
the kids may resort to violence and /or lying and stealing just to “chalk up a few wins.”
But life is full of
competition—for jobs, for promotions, for mates. Scouting affirms the ethics and moral standards foster parents try
to instill in their foster children. The program teaches honesty in relationships and integrity in social situations. Children
in foster care often come from dysfunctional families who spend little time teaching values. Foster parents can use all the
help they can get to overcome that lack.
Fostering a child is
work. Scouting asks us to go a step farther. But what price is too high to pay
for a child’s self esteem? Our scouts wear grins the size of Texas pancakes each time they receive awards. Pride is a great gift to receive—and
an even greater one to give. That’s the payoff for the extra minutes we spend listening to a child read a poem or helping
him work in the kitchen so he can get a merit badge.
Ryan and Todd are two
of the 35 children we have fostered. We can’t succeed with all of them. But
mostly, we’re successful in giving these children tools to use no matter where life takes them. Foster children don’t
stay in one place for long. They go home, or to other placements.
Decisions we make for
our foster children while they are in our homes can make the difference in whether they become responsible adults or statistics
in the Department of Corrections. Skills and values we give them may keep their children and their children’s children
out of “the system.” And society cannot afford families whose legacy is welfare.
For Ryan and for Todd,
the decision to allow them to become Scouts was a good one. The activities, the fun and the training are memories they will
carry with them for a lifetime. Scouting and foster care are a great team—a tag team—in raising healthy kids.
* for the sake
of confidentiality, names have been changed.
Since its inception
in 1910, Scouting has included people with disabilities in its program. Today, there are more than 100,000 Cub
Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers with disabilities.
troops consist entirely of people with disabilities (an all-deaf group for instance) Scouting aims to integrate the disabled
with scouts who have no disabilities.
The BSA offers
an annual award to an adult in Scouting who demonstrates leadership in Scouting for disabled people (The Woods Service Award.)
For more information,
by Caryl Harvey