As thousands of pages of confidential Boy Scouts files regarding past sexual abuse were made public Thursday, representatives of suburban Scouting councils stressed that a lot has changed with the organization's policies on youth protection.
The 14,500 pages of documents were compiled between 1959 and 1985. Dozens of those decades-old cases involved troop leaders from the West, Northwest and North suburbs, including Arlington Heights, Bensenville, Carpentersville, Naperville, Villa Park and Wood Dale, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
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"If we didn't have the best (policies) in place in the past, we are certainly sorry for that," said Matt Ackerman, spokesman for the Boy Scouts Three Fires Council based in St. Charles.
Ackerman said he has no knowledge of any cases of abuse because they happened before he joined the council in 2007, though he has been involved with the Scouts for more than 20 years.
For two decades, abuses were recorded internally but never reported to police, according to the L.A. Times report.
According to a statement from the national Boy Scouts of America, today the agency requires background checks, comprehensive training programs for volunteers, staff, youth and parents and mandates reporting of even suspected abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services.
Individual troop leaders also are not allowed to be alone with children at any given time, Ackerman said.
"Our policies have evolved since the mid-1980s," Ackerman said. "We do take youth protection very seriously. It's one of the most important things that we have to do."
Ackerman said the agency has an established multitiered youth protection approach emphasizing volunteer screening, education and training.
"All volunteers must complete a rigorous application and screening process before joining scouting," he said, adding the agency made national criminal background checks mandatory in 2003. "We require all of our volunteer leaders to complete youth protection training. It has to be renewed every two years because our policies and procedures get updated."
Ackerman said today other youth organizations use the Boy Scouts' policies as a model.
Parents also are strongly encouraged to undergo youth protection training, said Matt Thornton, acting Scout executive for the Boy Scouts Northwest Council.
"There's a better awareness now about all these types of incidents," Thornton said. "The more we can make people aware to try to protect the kids, that's important. We do training with the kids too. The Boy Scouts are committed to provide a safe place for their child to have a great outdoor experience."