Counseling Merit Badges Over Long Distances
During the month of April, 1998, a discussion occurred on the Scouts-L mailing list about counseling merit badges over long distances, most specifically through the internet. Below is my personal proposal on how to handle long distance counseling. It is based on my own thoughts and thoughts I heard expressed during the discussion. I tried to mirror Scouting policy as closely as possible while developing this proposal and I believe nothing here conflicts with any current BSA policy.
Long distance counseling is a counseling relationship during which the counselor and the Scout will never meet face to face. Communication between the two would take place by phone, mail, and the internet.
The counselor would have to meet the same requirements as any merit badge counselor as noted in the National BSA Policies and Procedures:
- Qualification of Counselors. Persons serving as merit badge counselors must be registered as a merit badge counselor with the Boy Scouts of America. They must be men and women of good character, age 18 or older, and recognized as having the skills and education in the subjects for which they are to serve as merit badge counselors, as well as having the ability to work with Scout-age boys.
In addition, the Scout must work through his troop program just as he would to obtain the services of any other merit badge counselor. The counselor must be approved by the troop committee and registered as a merit badge counselor in the local council for that troop.
In situations where no one from the troop will ever be able to meet the counselor face to face, it is very important to make sure the counselor is properly qualified. Registration as a merit badge counselor in another council is an excellent recommendation but does not automatically qualify the counselor for long distance counseling. Troop leadership should make sure the counselor intends to pursue his task with determination. Without face to face discussions, it may be easier for the Scout to set aside a project unfinished.
All of the documentation requirements still stand. The Scout must obtain permission from the Scoutmaster to take the merit badge. If the counselor is not registered in the troop's council, he must fill out a registration form and mail it to the troop committee for their review and approval. The Merit Badge application card ("the blue card") should be filled out and mailed to the merit badge counselor. Upon completion, the counselor should mail it back to the Scoutmaster for his final approval. This should then be given to the Scout for his records.
Earning the Badge
All required written work must be mailed or e-mailed to the counselor for verification. Everything requiring verbal discussion may be done over the phone or may also be written down and mailed or e-mailed to the counselor for verification. Photographs and/or confirmation from a responsible adult sent to the counselor will satisfy requirements needing visual verification.
Long distance counseling should be considered an option, not an everyday method of obtaining merit badges. Although not extremely likely, there are two potentials for abuse of this method which should always be given due consideration prior to use. First, Scouts may see this as potential a way to get badges without having to do all the work. Second, undesirable individuals may seek to use this as a method to make contact with Scouts. Oversight by the Scoutmaster and a thorough review of the counselor's abilities and intent are excellent ways to prevent the above two problems from occurring. Adapt the Buddy System for email by copying the Scoutmaster and for telephone with three-way calling or an extension. Also, the Scout should be told that if he and his counselor do decide to meet, the Scoutmaster should be told before the meeting is scheduled to take place, and all youth protection requirements must be adhered to.
Long distance counseling is potentially an excellent boon to Scouting. Many merit badges are hard to earn due to a lack of qualified counselors for that subject. Railroading merit badge, for instance, would require a counselor with experience with model trains. Even though you may not be able to find an adult locally who would be able to help out, it might be possible to get someone with the National Model Railroad Association to help. I don't know how they would feel about working one on one with a Scout but promoting model railroading is what they're all about.
Finally, not all subjects are appropriate for long distance counseling. Merit badges with a lot of physical requirements, such as Swimming or Sports, may not be good candidates for long distance counseling. Then again, merit badges where most requirements must be documented, such as Personal Management, would probably do pretty good using this method. In assigning merit badge counselors, the Scoutmaster would need to use his discretion when deciding what merit badges to allow long distance counselors to counsel.