Being inclusive – what does it mean in practice?
I’ve written and spoken many times about my passion for giving all young people the same opportunities that I believe Scouting has given me since the age of eight. One way of ensuring that we do is through our Diversity Framework and Action Plans which has just been approved and is now being implemented. I very much hope that this will help us to make Scouting far more inclusive over the coming years. But it's not without its challenges is it?
So, after reading a few threads appearing over on EScouts, and a question about our equal opportunities I thought I would share some thoughts with you.
If we are sincere about these aims, then my conversations with various minority communities and groups confirm that we need to continually review our culture, practices and systems to allow us to achieve our overriding aim. However, it is often the simple things that we fall over on, rather than the more challenging.
Scouting has Groups whose memberships vary; some may be of a predominant faith, others a mixture of different ones. Some are located in hospitals while others draw membership from one school. They may be based on interest (sea/air scouts) or mainly feature young people with special needs. All forms of Scouting contribute to the overall aim and, to date, this flexibility in our structure has helped us realise not only a growth in membership but in our diversity too.
It is likely that over time structures and systems will need to be adjusted, just as society changes to ensure that we are still meeting our core goals. Inclusion and integration is a slow, steady process and as we move along the diversity continuum the idea is to make it a natural transition – not a ‘you must do this, you must not do that’ (although sometimes that may be necessary as with co-education). It is about understanding what parents wish and what the young people want and need; respecting their timeframe as well as preserving the central ethos of Scouting.
‘Closed’ events are not only arranged because of religious requirements (although this is currently in the spotlight) but they are an important part of bringing people together from the same background or interest. It can be argued that there is value in this. For example, having a faith Scout community to encourage each other in their spiritual development or overcoming prejudice locally. People who are often the ‘minority’ can be encouraged by being with others of the same persuasion, sharing same experiences such as opening a group.
Perhaps those of us in the 'majority' should strive to better understand what it is like to be part of a minority group – whether based on faith, ethnicity or disability. We all need to try to understand what the challenges are and what being in a minority feels like. I experienced an excellent training exercise not so long ago for Young Leaders in Essex on this very theme.
The Association is working hard to become more accessible in its policies, practices and events but there is still some way to go. Therefore we are likely to have a few ‘closed’ events occurring for the next few years at least.
We all need to appreciate that they remain a valid means to the ultimate goal of full inclusivity.
Integration is a two-way street and, on further investigation, you will often find that many of these events are in fact open to all, but give the appearance of being closed because of their target audience. Have you ever thought how your event might appear to those from other backgrounds?
The key to ensuring that Scouting truly reflects our local communities and becomes more open largely depends on the support and training we can offer volunteers to give them the skills and confidence to welcome every young person that wishes to come through their door. We can, perhaps, only begin to do this if our leadership teams themselves reflect the local community.