Cub Scouts to start letting girls join
New initiative will also offer older girls a program to qualify for Eagle Scout designation.
NEW YORK — In its latest 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 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 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. For now, the Boy Scout label will remain.
“There are no plans to change our name at this time,” spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said in an email.
Under the new plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all-boys or allgirls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders.
The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the same Eagle Scout rank that has been attained by astronauts, admirals, senators and other luminaries.
Boy Scout leaders said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.
“The values of scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” said Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive.
The announcement follows many months of outreach by the BSA, which distributed videos and held meetings to discuss possibility expanding girls’ participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts.
Surveys conducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong support for the change among parents not currently connected to the Scouts, including Hispanic and Asian families that the BSA has been trying to attract.
Among families already in the scouting community, the biggest worry, according to Surbaugh, was that the positive aspects of single-sex comradeship might be jeopardized.
“We’ll make sure those environments are protected,” he said. “What we’re presenting is a fairly unique hybrid model.”
The Girl Scouts of the USA have criticized the initiative, saying it strains the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA’s move was driven partly by a need to boost revenue, and they contended there is fiscal stress in part because of past settlements paid by the BSA in sex-abuse cases.
In August, the president of the Girl Scouts, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts’ operations.
The BSA recently increased its annual membership fee for youth members and adult volunteers from $24 to $33, but Surbaugh said the decision to expand programming for girls was not driven by financial factors. He expressed enthusiasm at the possibility that the changes could draw hundreds of thousands more girls into BSA ranks over the coming years.
The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from sports leagues.
As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members and 749,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014. The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013.
The Boy Scouts will allow girls to join Cub Scout packs next year. A program for older girls will begin in 2019.