Going above and beyond: Cubs edition
Young people have a lot to think about. Day-to-day, they’re going from one new experience to the next, coming across personal and practical issues they don’t know how to deal with. As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to help them cope, just by being aware of what might be going on in their lives. In this series, we’ll hear from an expert on the types of issues young people in each section might face and how you can support them. Daniel is Safeguarding Manager at School-Home Support, a charity helping disadvantaged young people and their families to overcome issues preventing them from attending or making the most of school, such as poverty, mental ill health or domestic violence.
As Scouting reaches more and more disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, as well as those from different cultural backgrounds, it’s important that we are aware of what could be happening in their lives. This issue, Daniel focuses on Cub Scouts.
Lots of people have celebrations to look forward to over the winter break, and most will enjoy them. However, the return to the Pack can throw up challenges for young people who have difficult issues at home.
It may be that they celebrate Christmas or Hannukah but didn’t get many, or any, presents, as their parents or carers don’t have much money. A family member may be very unwell, or there might have been incidents of domestic violence, which spikes around the holidays as more alcohol is consumed, there’s a pressure to be around relatives for longer periods of time, and financial issues often arise. Young people who live in abusive or emotionally chaotic households often dread the winter break, and it can be tough when they return in January and everyone wants to swap stories. While some Cubs will have gone on trips abroad or days out to Santa’s grottos and winter wonderlands, others might not have done anything at all, and the comparison can be hard. If everyone celebrates a particular holiday except for one or two young people, they might also feel left out.
Opportunities to help
- It’s important that young people feel that they can talk to you, or another trusted adult, about issues like domestic violence. If someone seems upset, give them space to talk and really listen. You can also look out for signs of domestic violence in both the lead-up to the winter break and afterwards, such as young people mimicking abusive behaviour or language, and parents or carers showing signs of displaying or experiencing abusive behaviour (such as visible bruises or fear of their partner). Always follow the Yellow Card guidance.
- Emphasise that not all people celebrate Christmas. As a section, learn about other winter festivities and note that some people don’t celebrate any winter holidays at all.
- Discourage conversations comparing presents and trips away, and offer distractions if anybody seems upset or unwilling to speak. You could even celebrate winter festivities within your group, for example, holding a section activity such as tobogganing or ice-skating. This gives young people a chance to focus on something aside from presents and provides positive experiences for those who may not have had a good winter break. It is also a great conversation starter for when the group starts the new year, giving them something positive to reflect on. This can be combined with a focus on the start of the year, personal goals and new year resolutions.
- Families that are struggling financially may be unable to afford certain Scouting activities. Speak to your GSL or District Commissioner and the Scout Grants Committee team to see if there is support available to enable them to take part in these activities. If you’re concerned that neglect may be an issue, speak to the Safeguarding Team.
Summer holidays and FGM
Once they reach Cubs and Scouts age, young people from some cultural backgrounds will be at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). A common time for this to occur is over the summer holidays, as a lengthy period of time is needed for healing, when it’s less likely to raise suspicion. Young people might leave the country for this or experience it in the UK.
FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985. In 2003, it also became a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to take their child abroad to have FGM. Anyone found guilty of the offence faces a maximum penalty of 14
years in prison.
Opportunities to help
- A young person at risk of FGM may be unaware, but could mention things like: a long holiday abroad or going ‘home’ to visit family; an older female family member visiting from abroad; a special occasion or ceremony to ‘become a woman’; or a female family member being ‘cut’ – a sister, cousin, or an older relative such as a mother or aunt.
- You can read more about the signs of FGM and what to do if you suspect it is happening to a young person here: scouts.org.uk/shsfgm.
- As with domestic violence, make sure you follow the Yellow Card safeguarding code of practice if you suspect there is an FGM risk for a young person.
Starting secondary school
In a recent survey, school leaders were asked to give the most common ways young people were unprepared for secondary school. These included: showing a lack of resilience (53%), lack of social skills (46%) and low self-esteem/confidence (47%) – all areas that Scouting helps with.
Of course, everyone gets nervous about moving into secondary school, and older Cubs (and their parents or carers) might appreciate some reassurance around this big move.
Opportunities to help
- Planning an expedition or other adventure with your Pack is a great opportunity to build their resilience and independence. They might be nervous – especially if it’s some Cubs’ first time away from home – but it will allow them to develop lasting friendships and learn new skills, showing them that extra responsibility and independence can be really positive. Let them know that expectations of them will change as they get older, and that they’ll need to be more responsible for their time management, learning, clothing and equipment. Preparing for a trip is a great way for them to get used to this.
- It’s good to create an open space where young people can air any concerns, so hold a session dedicated to the move and bust some myths together. If they’ve been told that having to attend so many different lessons is overwhelming, reassure them by drawing a connection between their new school timetables and the range of badges and activities they’ve done at Cubs. For example, Cubs who enjoyed their Chef or Backwoods Cooking Activity Badge can look forward to Food Technology, while those who got stuck into their Scientist Activity Badge will love exploring biology, chemistry and physics in more depth.
- Talk about how your young people can plan their own journeys to school, emphasising the importance of safety. Linking it to their Personal Safety Activity Badge is a good way to do this.
LGBTQ+ awareness (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer or other)
Exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity should be a positive experience for all young people, and all Scouts should feel included and accepted. At this age, some young people will realise that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual, meaning that their sexual orientation may be different from many of their peers, while others will discover that they
are trans or non-binary, facing the same issue with gender identity.
Opportunities to help
- It’s helpful to be aware of local LGBTQ+ groups and resources that you can signpost young people and their parents to, if needed. Some young people and their families will be happy doing their own thing, but others will appreciate the support. Charities like Mermaids (mermaidsuk.org.uk) and Stonewall (youngstonewall.org.uk) are brilliant sources of information and advice.
- Use inclusive language. If you’re talking about families or relationships, don’t make assumptions about the gender of parents or partners, that these relationships will always be opposite-sex, or about anyone’s marital status.
- Avoid splitting the group into girls and boys, and keep activities gender-neutral.
- When you’re coming up with positive role models for young people to meet, think about representing people from different sexualities and genders, as well as different cultural, racial and spiritual backgrounds.
- Just being positive, welcoming and respectful is one of the best things you can do. LGBTQ+ young people may be bullied at school, so offering an alternative safe, fun place for them to go will be truly appreciated.
Increased online access
The average age a young person in the UK gets a phone is 10 years old. If your young people don’t yet have phones, they’re likely to have the key codes for a parent or carer’s phone or other device. While young people this age aren’t usually on social media yet, they could potentially stumble across dangerous or upsetting things on the internet. There are a huge range of benefits that internet access can bring for young people, but it’s important to help them stay safe.
Opportunities to help
- Make sure your section is aware of basic internet safety: this can be part of the Digital Citizen Staged Activity Badge or Communicator Activity Badge. A good way to start is by talking about their digital footprint and why privacy is so important, how to make secure passwords and who to speak to if they feel uncomfortable with any content they find. Internet Matters (internetmatters.org) is an excellent source of information.
- A good online game young people can play is Webonauts Internet Academy, which can be found at pbskids.org/webonauts.
- Players take on the job of being a ‘webonaut’: a brave explorer who’ll have to complete a series of missions. An immersive game, it includes lots of information on ‘netiquette’ and online safety, and is suitable for young people aged 8+.
While it’s great to be aware of all of these issues potentially facing young people, please note that it’s not your responsibility to carry out extra work around them on top of your usual volunteer role. If you’re worried about someone in your section, it’s best to contact your GSL or District Commissioner about support you can signpost the Cub or their family to.