Dear Scouts Canada: You have a risk problem…

Where is everyone?

It starts with Policy

Policies are the window into an organizations intent. At best, they’re a clear, concise breakdown of what it means to operate within that organization. At worst, they’re quagmire of bum covering statements designed to keep the organization from getting into courtroom drama. Or worse, to download the legal issues to their staff or volunteers…

  • Asking Scouters to comply carries the risk of them telling you to find someone else; the demand for a volunteer role is simply too expensive, time consuming, etc. Fewer Scouters…fewer kids…fewer registration dollars…rinse, repeat
  • Ignoring the Policy introduces the Risk of Scouters hand picking the policies they agree with; policies lose their meaning and weight.
  • Avoiding true adventures carries, in my mind, the greatest risk of all: Mediocre programming risk and declining enrollment. Parents shake my hand at the end of an Adventure, thanking me and the other Scouters for introducing their kids to risk and challenge. I dread the idea of that not being available, of kids spending their time in the park pretending to be interested in latest safe game or craft.
  • Removes a big part of what draws kids to Scouting
  • Doesn’t happen through certification
  • Isn’t as important as you might think

Kids enjoy Risk

I’ve volunteered with Scouts Canada for 8 years. I’ve worked with kids aged 8–15 and they all share one thing in common; they thrive when being challenged in a situation they deem risky. I think I know why. Exposing them to risk is a way to show they’re trusted. By the time we’ve arrived at a lake or 10 km into the back-country, they know I trust them. They know I trust they’ll do their best, they’ll make mistakes and that’s OK. The value of the experience and what they learn from their mistakes is amplified in what these policies deem a risky situations. There’s a great article in Psychology Today breaking down why kids cherish risk. It helped me understand why safe looking playgrounds seldom have hoards of kids playing on them…

Being Certified Doesn’t Always Make You an Asset

I have my Red Cross Wilderness First Aid certification. It comes with a nice booklet and the course gave me a chance to meet James Tucker, a fantastic Scouter and first aid resource. With every passing day, I remember less from that course and that makes sense. I don’t ski patrol, I’m not in Search and Rescue. I work at a desk and acid re-flux tends to be the biggest risk in our office. In the two years certified, I’ve helped a youth who hurt his wrist at camp (diagnosis: homesick), a nice pair of folks I happened upon at a fender bender (course of treatment: talking to them until the ambulance arrived) and a man having a seizure outside Westbrook Mall (I almost needed medical assistance in dealing with the surge of emotion and adrenaline). Prior to being certified, I would have fared as well (or better, no expectations…) just using common sense with these folks. My fellow Scouters have done as much or less during that time (the lone exception being Erwan Oger, a ski patroller). Thomas Welch wrote a great piece for NOLS, Controversial Issues in Adventure Programming¹. Welch contends there is an incorrect assumption that the average layperson can learn, retain and execute medical procedures in the back-country. I fully agree. For Scouting, it’s about Cuts and Burns. We’ll leave appendectomies via Leatherman and a thermarest repair kit for the television audience.

So, How Risky Is It Anyhow?

You’ve been reading for quite a while so I’ll answer first and explain below.


It’s time for Scouts Canada to promote the idea that kids in the program will be participating in a risk-managed environment. This is not risk-free nor should it ever be. They should encourage Scouters to take chances and, in doing so, grow.



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Jamie McIlroy

Jamie McIlroy

Husband and Father. Wilderness First-Aid Certified. Terrible at tying knots. I play Squash. I like things that Trade. Leafs fan. FRC and Scouts Canada