There is no right answer to these questions but look for a unit that youth will feel comfortable joining.
How many registered Scouts are in the troop? How many registered leaders? While troops will vary in size, there should be a cadre of leadership appropriate to the number of Scouts in the troop. Do the youth tend to stick with the program year to year?
What is the age range of the Scouts? Is the troop currently able to hold the interest of the older as well as younger Scouts? Do they offer (or plan to offer) any high adventure activities? Younger Scouts traditionally work on their rank requirements so they can advance through the Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class ranks in their first year in Scouting. Much of their attention in meetings and on campouts is devoted to their basic Scout skills for these requirements. As the Scouts get into their teens, it is necessary to challenge them in order to hold their interest. Scouting has established high adventure programs for Scouts who are 13 years of age or older. They may begin high-level canoeing, rock climbing, or sailing. Troops may travel to Philmont Scout Ranch for rugged mountain backpacking or to a national or international Jamboree or to other high adventure sites.
Who are the Scout leaders in the troop? Are the Scoutmaster, assistant Scoutmasters, and committee chairman trained? What training have they attended and when? This is a very important part of your consideration of a troop. A trained leader should know BSA policies on programs, safety, and youth protection. To be considered trained, leaders must have taken training courses offered by the district and council. High levels of training are desired.
Is the troop youth-run? What is their feeling about youth leadership? Most troops aim to train their youth for leadership. Each troop has a senior patrol leader (SPL), elected by all the Scouts in the troop, who with their assistant senior patrol leader takes the helm for leadership within the troop. The troop will also be organized into patrols, units of 5 to 8 Scouts who function together, similar to a Cub Scout den. They will have an elected patrol leader and assistant patrol leader. In a young troop, the youth will obviously need more adult assistance in running meetings, etc., but in an established troop with older Scouts, you should see evidence of “youth leading youth”, not adults running the program.
What is their activity program like? Ask to see a copy of their yearly program schedule. You’ll want to see how often they camp out. The outdoor program recommends 9-12 campouts per year, including summer camp. Do they camp in the winter? Do they participate in the district and council activities such as the district camporee, Scout Fair, Scouting for Food? Do they offer special activities at meetings? Do they invite speakers on certain topics?
What is a typical meeting like? Is it youth-run? Is it upbeat? Are the youth kept busy? Is it fun? Do they show respect to the flag ceremony, to the program, to the adults, to each other? Is good discipline evident within the program?
What are their uniform requirements?
Does the troop attend summer camp? What percentage of the troop attended last year? Where do they go? Do they always go to the same camp? How many leaders attend camp with the Scouts? Are the leaders trained? Summer camp offers a tremendous opportunity for Scouts to experience the fun and excitement of camping while affording the chance to achieve rank advancements and merit badges.
How do they utilize the advancement and merit badge program? Some troops use the advancement and merit badge program as the cornerstone of their program. Their campouts and meetings center on helping the youth advance within the format outlined by the Boy Scouts of America. Some focus meetings on merit badge work. Other troops may feel that the advancements and merit badges are secondary and plan activities independent of them. Their Scouts earn all merit badges on their own. Clearly, either system can function well, and the youth can work with either one to advance all the way to Eagle Scout.
What can a parent expect in terms of fees? Fees vary from troop to troop. Most troops have an annual fee, which covers membership and basic materials, including badges and awards. It usually does not include uniform, camping fees, meals, travel or other special activity costs. You’ll want to know what additional fees will likely be charged during the course of the year.
Observe how the youth interact. How do they treat visitors? You’ll want to join a troop where the Scout feels comfortable. Does the Scout need a group where they already know other youth? If they do not know other youth initially, do they seem like a group that will treat a newcomer well?
What can I do to help? Troops require lots of adult support. There are many different levels of involvement in a troop, from leadership roles to serving on the troop committee, to helping with campouts, to driving to events, etc. We hope you can get involved with your Scout as they continue on in Scouting. It’s been our experience that successful Scouts and successful troops have parents who can make time to be involved.