Boy Scout leaders in Minnesota say they’ve implemented new child safety policies in the years since sexual abuse allegations surfaced and are moving forward after the national Boy Scouts of America (BSA) filed for bankruptcy Monday in the wake of misconduct settlements across the U.S.
New guidelines established last year require any adult troop or pack leader to complete two hours of online instruction and have a background check every year as part of the Scouts’ mandatory youth protection training.
The national organization doubled its fees for leaders to cover the extra expenses, and volunteers with the Northern Star Council that serves about 54,000 Scouts in Minnesota and Wisconsin said those efforts make the organization stronger.
“Boy Scout leaders have pushed really hard on tougher requirements,” said Garry Lowenthal, who is on the President’s Cabinet that guides the Northern Star Council in the Twin Cities. “We’ve talked to a lot of people about the changes and we are leading by example.”
The more than century-old national organization filed for bankruptcy protection in court in Delaware late Monday in what could be one of the biggest, most complex bankruptcies ever seen, given the nonprofit’s presence in 50 states. It’s the first step toward creating a huge compensation fund for potentially thousands of men who were molested as youngsters decades ago by scoutmasters or other leaders.
“We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to harm innocent children,” CEO Roger Mosby said in a statement, adding that the court process “will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”
In the Twin Cities, the Northern Star Council, which has about 11,500 adult volunteers, said it doesn’t receive money from the national organization for its $21 million budget and is “separately incorporated, financially sound and will continue to keep Scouting strong for youth in our area,” spokesman Kent York said in a statement.
Anne Varberg of Brooklyn Center, who helps supervise other volunteers who lead troops, said that the Twin Cities organization piloted mandatory youth protection training for leaders and was the “vanguard of youth protection training for a number of years. And really the experience for our young people we serve should see no changes,” she said, adding that the organization has undergone policy and cultural changes to be more diverse and inclusive.
Added Lowenthal: “I know some smaller councils may just be happy to have somebody be a scoutmaster or district chair. They might feel they want to take it easy on him as far as training goes. But the rules are the rules.”
In a note to local leaders a few months ago, the Northern Star Council emphasized that the bankruptcy wouldn’t affect the local units and that the national cases involve “decades old claims of child abuse done by a very minute number of volunteer leaders.”
Nationally, the Boy Scouts’ finances have been strained in recent years by declining membership and sex-abuse settlements.
Bankruptcy will enable the organization to put cases on hold for now and continue operating, but ultimately the Boy Scouts could be forced to sell some of their vast property holdings, including campgrounds and hiking trails, to raise money for a victims’ fund that could top $1 billion, according to the Associated Press. The Boy Scouts estimated 1,000 to 5,000 victims will seek compensation and more than 12,000 boys have been molested by 7,800 abusers since the 1920s, according to Boy Scout files revealed in court papers.
The number of youths taking part in scouting has dropped below 2 million, down from a peak of more than 4 million during the 1970s. Its membership rolls took a big hit Jan. 1 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cut ties and withdrew more than 400,000 Scouts in favor of programs of its own.
And across the country, states have relaxed their statutes of limitations to make it easier for victims to file claims. Most of the new cases date to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, before the Boy Scouts adopted mandatory criminal background checks, abuse-prevention training for all staff and volunteers, and a rule that two or more adult leaders must be present during all activities.
Just last week, the national Boy Scouts announced a new five-year partnership with an organization to provide support to victims.
But some questioned the fate of the prominent group.
“If the largest, most influential youth organization in the history of the United States can buckle under the weight of sexual abuse allegations, then every church, school [and] youth organization should take heed of this because if they don’t they do so at their own peril,” said Paul Mones, a lawyer in an Oregon lawsuit that resulted in a nearly $20 million jury verdict against the Scouts in 2010. “How will parents of young boys look at … the Boy Scouts? Will they now seek to continue their participation … or will it go in a different direction?”
‘They’re all implicated’
In Minnesota, 49 Scout leaders from 1992 to 2004 have been accused of abuse, according to a 2015 Star Tribune article.
The bankruptcy is a positive and sound step because it will protect the organization’s assets and its quality programs, said Lowenthal, a business owner who was a former district chairman of the Northern Star Council. The quicker potential lawsuits are settled, the sooner the Scouts can refocus on their mission: helping youth develop into future leaders and improve their moral character, he said.
While the national organization echoed that locals are separate, Tim Kosnoff, an attorney with a consortium of four law firms called Abused in Scouting that represents 2,000 clients, said the national bankruptcy case will have to involve local assets.
“We don’t think there is any separation between the national and locals,” Kosnoff said. “They’re all implicated.”
Minneapolis lawyer Patrick Noaker, who has represented several local cases of Boy Scout abuse, said local chapters will likely still be affected.
It could be much like how the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which declared bankruptcy after clergy sexual abuse cases, paid a $210 million settlement to abuse survivors with contributions from local parishes.
“It looks like the Boy Scouts are going the way of the Catholic Church,” Noaker said. “It’s outrageous for them to be running to the bankruptcy court for protection to protect their secrets. … Everybody deserves to know the truth.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.