Embracing a historic change, the Boy Scouts of America announced Wednesday plans to admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and to establish a new program for older girls using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts.
Under the plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders. The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.
The Boy Scouts board of directors, which approved the plan unanimously in a meeting at BSA headquarters in Texas, said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.
"We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children," said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA's chief scout executive.
"The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women," Surbaugh added.
The announcement follows many months of outreach by the BSA, which distributed videos and held meetings with the Boy Scout community to discuss the possibility of expanding girls' participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing and Sea Scouts.
The Girl Scouts of the USA criticized the initiative, saying it strained the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA's move was driven partly by financial problems and a need to boost revenue.
In August, the president of the Girl Scouts accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts' operations.
"I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts ... and not consider expanding to recruit girls," wrote GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan in a letter to the BSA's president, AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson.
The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA, founded in 1910, are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from youth sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy schedules that prompt some parents to despair of meeting all their children's obligations. For some families, scouting programs that welcome both boys and girls could be a welcome convenience.
As of March, GSUSA reported 1,566,671 youth members and 749,008 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014. The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.