Scouting has a long history of supporting young people with varying needs including physical, mental and learning disabilities and long term illnesses.
In 1911 the first Scout Troop dedicated to supporting young people with disabilities was launched in Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was visited by Robert Baden-Powell, he believed anyone could be a Scout as long as they had, “a good stout heart”. This innovation was quickly followed by a range of similar Troops, many of which operated from hospitals and care homes. At this time children with long term illnesses or disabilities were regularly cared for away from the family home. Scouting gave these young people an opportunity to be part of a wider community breaking some of the isolation of their existence.
In February 1913 Baden-Powell was please to announce a new version of Scouting for Boys would soon be available.
The Headquarters’ Gazettes from this period include letters from leaders asking for advice, sharing experiences and celebrating the success of their Scouts. Scouts and their leaders were encouraged to adapt the programme to meet their needs.
In 1924 a series of special tests were introduced to enable members with disabilities to participate in a Scouting programme designed to accommodate their special needs and requirements. In 1936 a dedicated department was set up to support Scouts with disabilities.
Baden-Powell described the value Scouting added to the lives of these young people as immense. His language is very much of its time but the sentiment he expresses could also describe the way in which Scouting supports young people today.
Through Scouting there are numbers of crippled, deaf and dumb, and blind boys now gaining greater health, happiness and hope than they ever had before. Most of these boys are unable to pass the ordinary Scout tests and are supplied with special, or alternative, tests. The wonderful thing about such boys is their cheeriness and their eagerness to do as much in Scouting as they possibly can. They do not want more special tests and treatment than is absolutely necessary. Scouting helps them by associating them in a world-wide brotherhood, by giving them something to do and to look forward to, by giving them an opportunity to prove to themselves and to others that they can do things – and difficult things too – for themselves.
Robert Baden-Powell, Aids to Scoutmastership, 1940
Events such as jamborees had special sub-camps for Scouts with disabilities and from the 1940s special international jamborees called agoonorees were organised.
Children’s hospitals set up dedicated Scout groups for in-patients so they could continue Scouting despite being away from home.
This practice continues today with provision such as the Scout and Girl Guide Group at Leeds Children’s Hospital opening in 2016. Over the years there has been a move to integrate young people with disabilities into mainstream Scouting activities. 1982’s Extoree held at Gilwell Park, was the first international camp to offer equal access to all Scouts.
Today we aim to remove as many barriers to participation as possible. Leaders are able to access support and training to enable them to design a programme which delivers Scouting for all. By being so proactive in its ethos of inclusivity, Scouting has led the way in this field, modelling behaviours that wouldn’t be adopted by areas such as education and social care for several decades.