Youth group leaders and child welfare experts met Monday near Dallas for the start of a two-day Boy Scouts of America symposium about how to spot and prevent child abuse.
The closed-door meeting near the BSA's national headquarters in the Dallas/Fort Worth suburb of Grapevine is part of the Scouts' efforts to improve how it handles abuse cases after the release of internal documents showing incidents in which the Scouts didn't inform law enforcement about alleged abuse within its ranks.
BSA says it has made sweeping changes in the years since those documents were collected. Scout leaders are now supposed to undergo regular, mandatory youth protection training, and BSA also requires at least two adults present at any meetings with youth and that any suspected abuse be reported to authorities.
Most of the 100 attendees at the symposium were affiliated with other groups, not Scouting. Those with Scouts ties said they welcomed the chance to discuss the group's current issues and best practices with other youth group leaders.
"We're willing to put our experience, our knowledge, our policies on the table," said Michael Johnson, a former police detective who is now BSA's national director of youth protection.
"We're going to be at this tomorrow, and we're going to be at this next year," Johnson added.
Among those scheduled to speak were officials from the National Child Protection Training Center and the National Center for Missing Exploited Children.
One problem identified Monday was the unwillingness of adults sometimes to believe or understand children who are reporting abuse. Victor Vieth, executive director emeritus of the National Child Protection Training Center, told the audience about how some doctors initially dismissed research that suggested obese people abused as children had trouble losing weight later in life. Studies of "adverse childhood experiences" like abuse or neglect show they can do lasting damage to health and life expectancy, he said.
He said officials from groups for children who have faced adversity need to be particularly vigilant because predators often seek out such children because they might be less likely to be believed.
"It does not detract from a child's credibility," Vieth said. "Usually, it enhances it."
The release of the so-called "perversion files" that the BSA kept on alleged pedophiles from 1959 to 1985 badly damaged its reputation. The group faces lawsuits on more recent internal files in at least three other states.
Johnson argued that the issues faced by the Boy Scouts -- which claims more than 2.7 million youth members in troops all over the country -- apply to every group that deals with youth.
"This is an issue that we're all battling," he said.
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