Boy Scouts: Why Background Checks Matter

Why is background screening essential? Why are criminal history checks vital not just for full-time employees but also for part-timers, temporary workers, contractors, freelancers, and volunteers?

At, we frequently receive variations of these questions from current and prospective clients. There are many reasons why background checks are such a crucial step for any organization, and few things illustrate the point better than a cautionary tale.

Right now, the most significant cautionary tale in background checks and employee and volunteer oversight is Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Established in 1910, BSA has been embroiled in tumult and controversy in recent years due to hundreds of sexual abuse allegations from past members. Most victims allege that they were sexually abused by troop leaders or other adults within the BSA organization. Some of those allegations date back decades.

One example is James Glawson, a 76-year-old man recently sentenced to 40 years in prison for the sexual abuse of six young men, including several he met through BSA programs. Glawson, who pleaded no contest to the charges, had volunteered with the organization for nearly four decades, beginning in 1980 and concluding in 2018, and worked as a Catholic chaplain for a scouting camp in Rhode Island. In addition to his time volunteering with the Boy Scouts, Glawson was previously affiliated with two Catholic parishes in Rhode Island, according to the New York Times.

The Glawson case is one part of the many abuse allegations that have brought BSA to the brink of dissolution. Last year, the organization sought bankruptcy protection, in part because BSA lawyers were anticipating a costly settlement process to compensate victims of past abuse. 95,000 people came forward and filed claims against the organization, exceeding what lawyers had expected. According to a Washington Post article from November, the organization will likely run out of cash to operate by summer 2021 if the bankruptcy case is not settled before that time.

One delay in the bankruptcy process is the fact that there is debate about which assets BSA should be able to hold back from liquidation. According to a January 8 Wall Street Journal article, the official committee representing survivors of childhood sex abuse within BSA has pushed back against part of the organization’s bankruptcy claim.

Currently, BSA is claiming that certain valuable assets–including the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, a 140,000-acre property in the Rocky Mountains, and other desirable properties in Florida and Minnesota–can’t be liquidated to pay debts or fund settlements. The committee is arguing that BSA has no legal grounds to hold back the properties from paying liabilities.

This story is a reminder to organizations and businesses everywhere that they have a responsibility to offer a safe environment for all. Thorough background screening policies are one way to follow through on this responsibility.

BSA claims that it does conduct criminal background checks on all scouting leaders, and that it has implemented a policy that prohibits any one-on-one contact between children and adult employees or volunteers. These same protections were not always in place, and abuse ran rampant in a way that has damaged the reputation and threatened the long-term survival of a once-trusted organization.

At, we can assist you in putting together an effective background screening strategy for your volunteer organization.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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