In its latest momentous policy shift, the Boy Scouts of America will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and establish a new program for older girls based on the Boy Scout curriculum that enables them to aspire to the coveted Eagle Scout rank.
Founded in 1910 and long considered a bastion of tradition, the Boy Scouts have undergone major changes in the past five years, agreeing to accept openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, as well as transgender boys.
The announcement Wednesday won't really change much, local scouting administrative leaders said Wednesday.
"I don't see a whole lot of difference. Our mission stays the same," Doug Callahan said. He is the Scout executive with the BSA's Great Rivers Council.
He described that mission as preparing young people to make moral and ethical decisions and to learn life skills — "'young people' now will mean boys and girls," he said. "The values and the lessons we've been teaching boys all these years, it applies to girls, too."
"This decision is true to the BSA's mission and core values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women," Michael Surbaugh said in a national news release. He is the BSA's chief Scout executive.
"We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children," Surbaugh continued.
"Families today are busier and more diverse than ever. Most are dual-earners, and there are more single-parent households than ever before, making convenient programs that serve the whole family more appealing. Additionally, many groups currently underserved by Scouting, including the Hispanic and Asian communities, prefer to participate in activities as a family."
In the news release, Surbaugh cited surveys of parents not involved in Scouting that show "high interest in getting their daughters signed up for programs like Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts."
The expansion of girls' participation, announced Wednesday after unanimous approval by the organization's board of directors, is arguably the biggest change yet, potentially opening the way for hundreds of thousands of girls to join.
Many scouting organizations in other countries already allow both genders and use gender-free names such as Scouts Canada. But for now, the Boy Scout label will remain.
Callahan said, "We've been having this discussion for almost a year now," driven by the requests of families. "There seems to be, as far as we can tell, a demand for girls" to be able to participate in the BSA's programs.
Though it remains to be seen how much local demand there actually will be, starting in the fall of 2018 — about late August or early September when registration events happen — girls will be able to sign up for new all-girl BSA packs. Existing BSA packs will alternatively be able to establish new all-girl dens or choose to remain boys-only. Whatever the option, all Cub Scout dens will be single gender.
"It's not something that's going to be forced on anybody," Callahan said, and the decision of whether to admit girls will "definitely (be) up to individual Cub Scout packs" and their chartering organizations of churches, PTA groups or service organizations.
"Having girls in camp will be nothing new for us," he said of the prospect of co-ed weekend events. BSA has offered co-ed programs since 1971 through its Exploring program and since 1998 in its Venturing program.
Callahan said the organization's youth-protection policies are already in place, and he doesn't anticipate major changes there either.
He said so far, beyond the initial news release Wednesday, the Great Rivers Council has received a document of frequently asked questions for guidance on the coming changes.
"Using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program, the organization will also deliver a program for older girls, which will be announced in 2018 and projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today's families," Surbaugh said.
Callahan said the BSA and Girl Scouts of the United States of America will remain two separate organizations. He guessed most girls already in Girls Scouts would choose to stay there.
Additionally, he said girls could potentially be members of both organizations if they wanted.
Intuitively, BSA is looking at the potential of doubling the amount of packs or dens it oversees. Callahan said to the extent that membership grows, parents of newly-involved children will be recruited to be needed new den and pack leaders.
Will Wednesday's announcement to bolster the future of Boy Scouts come at Girl Scouts' expense in terms of diminished membership?
"Here at the local level, we've collaborated a lot with the local Girl Scouts council," Callahan said, and he hopes that collaboration continues.
Lori Enyart said Wednesday's announcement "doesn't change the fact that we are the best choice for girls, just as we have been for over 100 years." She is the communications manager for the Missouri Heartland Council of Girls Scouts.
She added whatever happens going forward, "just as we've always done, we will continue to open up our organization" to girls across the counties in the Missouri Heartland Council — 68 counties in southern and central Missouri, southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma.
Nationally, BSA has 2.3 million youth members and approximately 960,000 volunteers in local councils throughout the United States and its territories.
Girl Scouts has about 1.8 million youth members and 800,000 adults.