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'Safe-guarding the Scouts is the number one priority'

Scout executive for the Mason-Dixon Council of the BSA says local Scouting environment is 'absolutely' safe for kids

October 19, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

In the wake of the release of decades of confidential sexual-abuse allegations within the Boy Scouts of America, a local Scouting official said Friday that the organization remains committed to protecting youth and providing a safe environment above all else.

“Safe-guarding the Scouts is the number one priority for the Scouting organization,” said Mark Barbernitz, Scout executive for the Mason-Dixon Council of the BSA, which oversees approximately 2,300 kids and about 100 troops of Scouts in Washington County as well as parts of Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania.

“Our youth protection guidelines and program really is on the cutting edge,” Barbernitz said. “It’s received awards, shared with other organizations because it really truly works to prevent any type of possibility for any actions to happen that are not appropriate.”

More than 1,200 BSA files on suspected child abuse and molestation cases nationwide were made public this week, including 15 files that were created between 1964 and 2004 with ties to the Tri-State area.

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The Scouts’ “perversion files” include cases from Hagerstown, Clear Spring, Smithsburg, Frederick, Md., Thurmont, Md., Martinsburg, W.Va., and Waynesboro, Pa.

Barbernitz said the local Scouting environment is “absolutely” safe for kids and every registered adult in the program is subjected to an extensive criminal background check. BSA officials also have the ability to do further background checks if something suspicious were to appear, he said.

There are currently about 1,000 adults registered in local programs and each one is required to take youth protection training, which strictly enforces a “two-deep leadership” model that requires two adults to always be present around Scouts, Barbernitz said.

“There’s never — in any situation — one-on-one contact with an adult and a youth. That’s not permitted,” he said. “We also have training for the boys that helps them recognize abuse and reporting procedures. It’s a multi-pronged approach of training and prevention.”

Scott Smith, who grew up in Washington County, has been a part of the Scouts from both sides, as a youth member and now as a Scoutmaster.

A member of Boy Scout Troop 100 in Williamsport during the 1970s and 1980s, Smith is the Scoutmaster for St. Augustine Troop 1111 in Elkridge, Md. He said his experiences as a youth were very positive and the example set by his Scoutmaster has helped shape the way he leads his Scouts today.

Smith said the background checks and youth protection training courses are extremely important to the protection of children.

“You have to shoot for overkill about protection,” Smith said. “Two-deep leadership is like a Godsend. You can have all the protection training, but you never get in a situation where it’s what you say and what one boy says. You’re never in that position. You have another adult that was there that can basically say what really happened.”

Many Scout troops are supported by local churches, which offer them a place to hold meetings, fundraisers or group gatherings.

The Rev. Tim Leighton, pastor of Church of the Holy Trinity UCC in Halfway since 2006, said their congregation will continue to support Boy Scout Troop 136 and the Cub Scout pack that meet at the church.

“The congregation as a whole has been very supportive of Scouting, both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, for a number of years,” Leighton said. “The Scout troop has done several service projects.”

Leighton, who also took part in the Scouts as a kid, said the church has not considered re-evaluating its relationship with the organization despite the abuse allegations, adding that Troop 136 leaders are very conscientious of the parents and adults that work with the kids.

“I’ve gone to meetings and they adhere to all the national guidelines about never being one-on-one with a Scout,” he said. “From our church relationship, we don’t see any problem with continuing that relationship or continuing to host the Scouts.

“I know for certain that the Scoutmaster (Don Gehr) — if there was ever an adult that a Scout felt uncomfortable with or there was some problem — he would be the first one to go ahead and report that and make sure,” Leighton added. “I do have that confidence.”

Barbernitz said Scouting continues to be a safe and worthwhile program for the approximately three million youth who participate nationwide.
Each individual organization has kept records on discharged adults suspected of abuse for decades, but since they were all released at once, it’s made the situation seem worse than it really is, he said.

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