Chief Chat – October 2018

I imagine many of you, like me, volunteer for Scouts Australia NSW because of the opportunity it gives us to serve our communities and impart skills and experiences to young people.

As Whitney Houston sang, "I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way."

And lead they do. As each new generation joins Scouts, we teach them the core fundamentals and they adapt them slightly in ways that make sense for their own futures, building on our foundations and finding experiences that keep Scouting relevant and contemporary for their peers.

Traditionally these changes move slowly, and adult volunteers have plenty of time to learn to accept them and make the necessary adjustments so we can continue to attract more young people to our Groups. But today, the speed of social change taking place in our communities has meant that those of us nearing retirement (or well past it!) are seeing far more of our habits and 'norms' being challenged. For some of us, that can be confronting, unsettling and at times, impossible to reconcile.

Which is why I thought this month, it would be helpful to explain more about the changes we're making at Scouts, why we're making them, and to acknowledge that while we are confident the vision we have designed (our "bright future") appeals to youth members, it may not work for every single adult.

Since starting as your Chief Commissioner, I've overhauled the roles and responsibilities for the State Commissioner team, and actively sought people who are optimistic about the future, with the energy, passion and positive behaviours to set and lead the culture I want – and need - to nurture.

This has also meant some individuals have left the uniformed team. These decisions are never easy – in a voluntary organisation, everyone starts as a hero in my mind. But in any organisation, there has to be a shared and united vision. For some individuals, the changes we're making don't resonate with their life preferences. They leave with our thanks. In response, we trust they will let us continue on our journey, granting the remaining State team with the respect and support they deserve.

I recently spoke to an adult volunteer, who has been involved with the organisation for over forty years. When I first met him, he was very unhappy. He had so many complaints about Cub Scouts. He described how the young kids in his Pack were always messing around and he regularly had to confiscate their devices; that parents didn't help out and that he'd never had a reliable assistant.

My recent conversation was vastly different. The younger sister of one of his parents had started helping out. She was really popular with the Cub Scouts. She'd convinced a couple of dads to sort out the storeroom, she'd organised adventures the Pack had never done before, and a friend of hers at the local rural fire service had pitched in for long-needed fund-raising.

I caught up with them again at a Grey Wolf awards ceremony. The Cub Leader told me his Assistant had just done something he'd never considered. She'd asked the young people in the Pack for their opinions about Cub Scouts. The results were a revelation – the kids explained in precise detail which badges they wanted to earn, what trips they wanted to make and which of their friends they wanted to invite along. The idea of asking 9 and 10 year olds for their views had initially seemed ridiculous. But the responses had inspired both the Cub Leader and his assistant. They had a renewed sense of purpose, and had set about working on the term's program, which was increasingly being led by the assistant, giving the Cub Leader a chance to consider whether it was finally time to pass the baton.

The New Youth Program represents the single biggest change in a generation to Scouting. It was approved by the National Operations Committee in July 2018, and will be implemented from April 2019. We anticipate it will take three years to roll out, with all Groups involved by December 2021.

The Youth Program combines what young people do in Scouting (the activities), how it is done (the Scout Method), and why it is done (the Purpose). Activities are seen as the means, rather than a goal, that create opportunities for each young person to develop skills and attitudes, and acquire knowledge to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of a 21st century global community.

It was created after five years of exceptionally thorough studies, consultations, research and comparative analysis of the entirety of the Scouting program to ensure it meets the needs of today's, and tomorrow's, young people. Parents, leaders, young people and even our competitors were asked for their views. The team read and considered literally thousands of responses.

At every stage of the journey, the team received both positive and negative feedback. Sometimes the critics were louder than the supporters. But the recommendations were consistent and reflected the views of the vast majority of our members.

The concepts were shared through Workshops around the country, which excited, challenged and questioned everyone's understanding of Scouting. They helped inform how we can evolve to increase the impact and opportunities for our great organisation.

It's now time to rejuvenate the way we deliver Scouting, and ensure our programs and our people are true to Scouting's core values. You'll find some more information about a core element of the program - youth participation – in this month's Chief Chat, along with an update on our property strategy.

Yours in Scouting,


Youth Participation: the Why and the How

How do you feel about Youth Leading, Adult Supporting?

It's a key element for the new youth program, yet there are still many Scout leaders who are challenging how this approach could work in practice.

First, it's important to understand that youth participation has been thoroughly researched by youth organisations around the globe, all of whom come to the same conclusion: children repeatedly say that adults don't listen to them. This is a key area of concern for any organisation working with kids. Participation has to be part of our culture.

Youth participation is when young people have the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to decision-making about issues that affect their lives. Young people need to know that their views have been listened to and are considered and acted upon.

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that "State Parties shall assure, to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child."

This fact sheet from the NSW Ombudsman sets out some of this information well.

At Scouts, “Youth Leading, Adults Supporting” develops a voice for youth members to achieve their goals through Scouting, and to develop and run the program they need to achieve their personal development goals.

In many Scouting activities there is currently strong youth leadership during adventures (the Do stage of Plan>Do>Review>) and formal leadership positions within the Patrol System are great for young people to take leadership when undertaking Scouting activities.

Currently, however, in many activities, it is adults alone who decide on, plan, organise and review the activities that young people participate in.

Of course, this doesn't mean all aspects of running a Pack or Troop are being delegated to young people. There are still important roles for Group Support Committees and Councils to manage resources such as funds, property or equipment, and to oversee adult training and recruitment.

Why not check out the great information about this important element of the Scouts Method, which you can find on the Scouts Australia website. It provides some helpful tips on where and how to involve the young people at Scouts more fully in decision-making.

Why we need a New Property Strategy

Scouts NSW occupies about 680 properties across NSW, with many in remote and rural areas. The majority were built or acquired in the period 1950-1980, which means the average age of a Scout hall is 70-75 years.

A concerning number of our Scout halls are no longer well located to serve growth areas, nor the changing requirements of our traditional locations. Furthermore, there is no reliable current assessment of the condition of individual properties in the portfolio although anecdotal evidence suggests that many don't meet contemporary community expectations and many don't even meet contemporary WHS and Building code requirements.

We're therefore commencing the development of a thorough property strategy, which will consider these issues alongside other broader trends in the NSW market, such as reduced lease terms, increased market-based rents, and the ability of our members to manage maintenance activities.

We also need to address the challenge of securing an appropriate return on capital for properties we're no longer using so that we can achieve a sustainable overall operating budget for Scouts NSW.

As you'd expect, this isn't a unilateral decision by the Board of Directors and the Chief Commissioner. We sent out an Expression of Interest and have now conducted a series of in-depth discussions with Region Commissioners, District Commissioners, Group Leaders, Section Leaders, supporters and parents from both metropolitan and rural areas. We also conducted engagement sessions with external agencies with a role to play in strategic and facility management, including Councils and the Department of Lands.

The key themes and issues that emerged from these in-depth sessions were developed into a Property Questionnaire with questions relating to properties and property management. On Friday 18 October, we sought input from broader stakeholder groups including Group Leaders/Leaders in Charge, District Commissioners and Region Commissioners.

We're aiming to have a comprehensive strategy in place in 2019, at which time we'll be engaging with all Groups and Activity teams who manage Scout properties, and work through the appropriate options for each of them that align with the overarching plan.

With best wishes,

Yours in Scouting,

Neville Signature

Neville Tomkins OAM JP
Chief Commissioner
Scouts Australia (NSW Branch)


All suspicions, concerns or allegations about criminal matters or child protection matters should be reported directly to the Chief Commissioner, the Deputy Chief Commissioner (Youth Safety, Compliance and Support), the CEO or the Child Protection Officer at the NSW State Office.
To make a report use the online child protection form, call 02 9735 9000 or email

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