We're half way through our 110th year of Scouts in Australia, and the Centenary of Rovering, and I'd like to dedicate this month's Chief Chat to the significant progress we've made during a period of transformation for Scouts NSW.
On my travels throughout the State, I am often asked how we are managing the extent of changes taking place and bringing everyone on the journey with us. I am also asked for reassurance that we'll retain the fundamentals of Scouting for the future.
The reason I'm confident we're heading in the right direction is firstly because our decisions are made with the voices of our youth members at the centre. By empowering our young people to help design the shape and future of Scouting, we're making ourselves far more relevant to our evolving communities than ever before. We ask for feedback, we listen to their opinions and we test our decisions with them.
This approach is almost completely unique amongst youth organisations in Australia. By giving young people the opportunity to have their say and learn to lead from an early age, we are offering an unparalleled experience. It is a distinctly positive attribute that attracts both youth and families to Scouting.
Secondly, we've also made positive changes across the team who oversees Scouting. From the Board of Directors to our new cohort of State and Region Commissioners, we're significantly lifting the quality, consistency and debate within our decision-making and we're moving more quickly to agree priorities and action them.
This new team reflects the behaviours and culture we're fostering across NSW. We know there are still many adult volunteers across the State who aren't yet ready to adapt to the significant social changes taking place within our communities – such as the diversity of our population and expectations of our young people to be involved at all levels of decision-making – but I'm confident that together we are paving the way for Scouts NSW to become more relevant, inclusive and attractive to all the young people in our State.
As you'll be aware from my last update, we've now seen a 5% growth in youth membership in the 12 months to 31 March 2018. This is such a great achievement and I again congratulate all involved. It's a real demonstration that we're on the right track. I truly hope we can build on this initial step as the year unfolds.
Some of the other achievements we've made as a State over the past 12 months include:
- Adopting the new Australian Promise and Law and the new Code of Ethics.
- Scouts representing 10 per cent of the young people attending the NSW Youth Parliament at Children's Week.
- Awarding 82 Wood Badges.
- Having almost 5,000 Active Kids Rebate vouchers claimed for school aged children.
- Generating strong local media coverage and participating in two 'live' weather broadcasts for Sunrise and The Today Show.
- Having over 400 recipients of the SIS10 (sports, fitness and recreation) unit of competency.
- Attracting new funding to enable us to launch the Family Support Fund, a three-year Young Leader Development Program, our Scouting for Refugees initiative and the Dr John Mitchell Trust Fund for Country Scouting.
- Launching contemporary courses on cyber-bullying, child protection and child safety and being recognised as a leading youth organisation in these matters.
- Enabling Joey Scouts to join from 5 years old, if they've already started school.
- Moving over half of our Groups onto CareMonkey to manage information, including 98% of Groups in our SouthMet region (well done!).
- Launching our brand new website.
- Introducing 12 Child Safe Advocates (CSAs) who are trained to provide support to our youth members.
- Attracting over 8,000 likes on our Scouts NSW Facebook page.
- Greater flexibility in our training – including face-to-face, sessions split over several weeks, virtual and remote options for all volunteers across NSW.
Of course this is merely a sample of the many developments and initiatives taking place – I've not touched on the outstanding work underway at Group, District and Region level.
New Youth Program
I hope you are all taking time to understand more about the New Youth Program, and exploring the changes taking place as part of "The Adventure Begins". There's a great website containing useful materials to support your Group's transition. It provides guidance on the meaning of SPICES, how to adopt a Plan>Do>Review> approach, and information about how you can start making changes to your Section Councils so that you're really living the "youth leading, adult supporting" principle within Scouting.
I'm very proud that five Scout groups from our State have become 'Pioneers'. They will be fully testing the Youth Program, and providing feedback to inform design changes we still need to make. They've joined the four Victorian 'Groundbreaker' Groups to trial the approach in a controlled implementation.
We're taking a steady, careful approach to launching the Program. We're working closely with the Region Commissioners and Group Leaders to understand the specific requirements, needs and expectations of their members. We've already embedded some of the elements into our adult leadership training, and participants at the Australian Jamboree next year in South Australia will be able to discover more about the Program within an action packed, interactive village located at the heart of the Jamboree site.
Don't forget that this Program has been in the works for almost five years. It encompassed extensive volunteer work through which thousands of people contributed their ideas. We also undertook professional research by the University of Western Australia and leading research organisation, McCrindle, alongside consultation with members and the wider community, workshops and major event pop-up spaces. It's been a truly collaborative approach, and I'd like to thank everyone who's helped us make such great progress.
Finally, you may not know about the way our organisation is governed, but as we're about to release our Annual Review - next month at our Annual General Meeting - it's a good opportunity to explain the contribution of our Board.
Our Board of Directors is elected by the State and Region Commissioners who make up the NSW Branch Council. While we manage our own structure and operations, we adopt the same strategic direction and approach as the national body, and we have representatives on the National Executive Committee of Scouts Australia.
In NSW, we're lucky to have attracted some impressive skills to our Directors' table. We've been able to instigate a series of constitutional reforms, which mean we now regularly assess the Board's performance and practice against the Good Governance Principles and Guidance for Not-for-Profit Organisations published by the Australian Institute of Company Directors. This means the decisions taken by the Board are balanced, strategic and aligned to the activities and requirements from each Region across our State.
Our Board of Directors focuses on the major strategic priorities we need to take in order for the NSW Branch to operate effectively. They deal with some difficult challenges, including the Redress Scheme for institutional child abuse, the long-term strategy planning process, the allocation of funding for our State office, the best time to launch the new Youth Program and the long-term property strategy for our Scout Halls. What this really means is that our Board works hard to find solutions to the challenges that face Scouts NSW by speaking with representatives across our organisation, prioritising the voices of our young people.
The Board has now agreed to formally opt-in to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, which commences on 1 July 2018. I am proud of this decision as it will ensure that all survivors of child sexual abuse in Scouts NSW have access to the Redress Scheme. It's our absolute priority that children and young adults should always feel safe in Scouting.
The Directors are also supportive of the work being undertaken to develop our Property Strategy and the exploration of decisions to be made to address the opportunities, risks and costs associated with our current property portfolio. They are particularly focused on how we can best support Scouting in new and high population growth areas of NSW, where we have no current infrastructure and ensuring the best use of the many properties we hold around the state.
Led by our Chair, Kerry McGoldrick, the Board makes decisions in the best interests of Scouting in NSW. We are privileged that this team is so committed to continuous improvement in its governance and in how we deliver a vibrant and engaging program to young people.
The Annual General Meeting takes place on Saturday 14 July, and the Annual Review will be available on our website soon afterwards.
Finally, I'm interested to know whether you feel the pace of change is still too fast. Please contact me, or connect with one of my team of Commissioners, if you'd like to share your thoughts. If your feedback is about the cultural changes we're implementing, then please touch base directly with Deputy Chief Commissioner, Belinda Francis, who is leading our Culture Taskforce.
If, on the other hand, you're keen to give a little more to Scouting through our many projects and initiatives, then we'd love to hear from you. We're always on the look out for talented volunteers to support our State uniformed and professional staff teams.
I hope this month's Chief Chat has given you greater insight into some of the achievements, developments and activities taking place at the Board of Directors and within the State team. It also highlights how the contributions of our young people are right at the heart of the outstanding progress we're making across NSW.
Don't forget the priority for the uniformed team of Deputy Chief Commissioners and State Commissioners is to support our frontline volunteers who are delivering Scouting in NSW. I encourage you to contact them if you need help or guidance or simply want to share your ideas for how we can keep make Scouting even better for all our youth and adult members.
With best wishes,
Yours in Scouting,
Neville Tomkins OAM JP
Scouts Australia (NSW Branch)
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