The Parents of your section members (and their extend family), are the best and most likely source of support available to you. Whether it is working with the young people or behind the scenes, helping occasionally or on a more regular basis at your weekly meetings or coming along to help on a day trip or at camp.
When asked: 'Would consider helping out in your child’s section, how often would you consider doing so?' The answer, on average, is ‘once a month!’
You may have already taken on the challenge of recruiting parents to help with the task of running and organising. And there are many highly successful ways to get the parents of your members involved.
Encouraging parents to get involved means being flexible and realising that not all people are able or prepared to offer their services on a weekly basis.
The mum, dad, nan or uncle who can help out at your meetings every third or fifth week are still a valuable resource. Who knows, once they see for themselves how rewarding working with young people or other adults is you may be able to encourage them to give more of their time!
A great way to put this into practice is by running a section rota. This means that a person can help out at a section meeting once every few week or so as suits them.
Why are they not getting involved?
Whilst a lot of parents have a realistic picture of the challenges facing scouting, many parents are still picking up on the some of the myths that circulate. These include:
- Scout Groups are closing down due to lack of interested young people not adults.
- Leaders are paid
- Leaders are 'superheroes' who know everything and have loads of spare time
- It is an all or nothing approach you have to be at the section meeting every week
- You have to work directly with young people.
- Scouting is very 'cliquey' and you cannot help out if you have not grown up through the Movement.
- You have to wear a uniform to help out.
- You spend all your time doing paperwork
- If I give an inch you'll take a mile!
Have the conversation
Parents are interested in finding out more about scouting and if you use a parent’s guide (either your own or one of the Association ones), it should act as the first step of their journey. It is totally up to you when you hand it out. Some leaders feel it would be best to give out when the young person attends their first meeting, others at the investiture and others when a child has been attending for a few months. You may also want to give the guide to parents whose children have been a member of your section for some time. Remember to follow the guide up with a face-to-face conversation where possible.
Include a family information and membership form in the pack and include question on how parents could help out. Encourage parents to return the family information form to you.
Parent's guides are not a 'magic wand' that will immediately solve all of your leadership problems. But, it should give you the opportunity to speak to parents about the issue of help and involvement when you distribute it.
Using people effectively - It’s important that when a person agrees to join your section rota you keep them informed of what is going on and give them things to do during the section meeting. Make sure you included them as a member of your extended leadership team and not make them feel like a 'spare part.'
Top tips for running an effective parents rota
- First things first, find someone to co-ordinate your rota for you… If a parent tells you they can’t ever come because of younger brothers or sisters, this is a great job to offer them as it can be done from home (or even more likely, in the school playground!)
- When organising a rota have a good think about the tasks that need to be done and particularly give people how voluteer a real job to do. Making the squash is fine, but it doesn’t warrant them giving up an entire evening just for that! Don't 'run them ragged' but ensure they are used to the full.
- Plan your programme in advance and let everyone on your rota know how many helpers you need each week. Why ask for two helpers every week when one week you might need four and the next you won’t need any.
- Make sure the parent know what you want them to do in advance – either the week before when they pick their child up, or give them a ring. It can be daunting for parents who don’t know what to expect.
- Ensure the rota is kept up-to-date and distribute it to everyone involved. This keeps everyone in the know and when they need to come along and the programme for the evening. It also allows parents to know who to swap weeks with if they need to.
- Display a copy of the rota somewhere prominent in your meeting place. This will act as a constant reminder that you operate a rota and who has signed up to help on which evenings
- Try not to make the rota a chore. Let parents know that when they agree to take part in a rota, they will be able to have a taste of what scouting is really about. Get them involved in activities and games and make them feel as though they are contributing to the success of a meeting.
- Find out if the parents who are helping have any particular skills or interests. Try to incorporate these into the section meeting. If parents feel that they can contribute to young people gaining an award, you may find that they become more motivated to find out other ways in which they can help.
- Don’t be afraid to ask parents or other relatives for help. Research shows that most people will say ‘yes’ if asked to help with a specific task. By giving parents the opportunity to have a taste of what volunteering for the Scouts is like, you may find yourself with some potential leaders for the future.
- Expand the rota to a family rota, where it doesn’t matter who helps out on that particular week, as long as someone is there. For example, it could be an aunt, uncle, grandparent, brother, sister or neighbour. This takes the pressure of one person and adds diversity in age range, experience and skills.