Ask the Expert: The who, when and why of Scout permission slips

expertlogo1Permission slips are like seat belts. They’re simple to use, and they’re for your own protection in case of emergency.

The Boy Scouts of America’s permission slip, officially called the Activity Consent Form and Approval by Parents or Legal Guardian, is a bilingual document that provides parental emergency contact info and releases the “Boy Scouts of America, the local council, the activity coordinators, and all employees, volunteers, related parties, or other organizations associated with the activity from any and all claims or liability arising out of this participation.”

You use a new permission slip for each unit trip, expedition or activity.

There are times when they’re recommended, especially when your chartered organization does not have something like it already in place, and times when they’re required, such as on basic or advanced orientation flights.

But recently Steve Sellers, Scoutmaster of Mount Holly, N.J., Troop 36, learned that some troops use an annual permission slip instead of one for each activity. He writes:

Hi Bryan,

I have a question on permission slips. Our troop has a Scout fill out a permission slip for every event. However, I know that some troops have “annual” permission slips, and still others use the medical Part A as a permission slip.

I also know that sometimes permission slips are required for certain activities, such as orientation flights.

What’s the right answer? Do we need permission slips for every activity, can we use an annual permission slip, or does the medical Part A suffice? Do adults need a permission slip as well? I can’t seem to find the answer written anywhere. Where can I go for an answer?



And here’s the expert’s answer, from the BSA’s Health and Safety leader, Richard Bourlon:

The BSA's permission slip.

The BSA’s permission slip.


While we understand that time is precious for leaders and parents, we do not recommend annual permission slips. The consent/release statement on the Annual Health and Medical Record, found on Part A, does not serve that purpose, either.

The Activity Consent Form (PDF) is designed for each activity or outing and what we recommend if your chartered organization does not have something already in place.

This form is recommended for unit use to obtain approval and consent for Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, Venturers, and guests (if applicable) under 21 years of age to participate in a den, pack, team, troop, or crew trip, expedition, or activity.

This form is required for use with flying plans and should be attached to the flying plan application.

It is recommended that parents keep a copy of the form and contact the tour leader in the event of any questions or in case emergency contact is needed. Additional copies of this form, along with the Guide to Safe Scouting, are available for download here.

Of course, our goal in all of this is to make sure that parents are aware of the kind of activities their youth will be participating in. So thank you.

One final reminder: The parent or legal guardian should fill out this activity permission slip, not the Scouts.

Well maybe two final thoughts … some states have very specific requirements for certain programs, examples would include whitewater rafting or shooting sports. In these cases, using something to facilitate the program should suffice.

Thanks to Richard for his insight. So, Steve, it looks like your troop has been doing it right by requiring a permission slip for each event.

Keep up the great volunteer work, and thanks for all you do for Scouting!

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70 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: The who, when and why of Scout permission slips

  1. Our Troop uses its own permission slip, with its own wording (it’s not the exact same wording as what is on the BSA permission slip). Is that acceptable, or must it be the “official” BSA one?

    • Well if you read it they talk about charter organization or the bsa national form only. So it would appear that if you do the troops form might not cover you. So it sounds like if you make your oun form you then take the liability on your self.

      “The Activity Consent Form (PDF) is designed for each activity or outing and what we recommend if your chartered organization does not have something already in place.”

      “This form is recommended for unit use to obtain approval and consent for Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, Venturers, and guests (if applicable) under 21 years of age to participate in a den, pack, team, troop, or crew trip, expedition, or activity.”

  2. Maybe I’m being obtuse — we really need a fresh permission slip for every den/troop meeting? Or does “activity” mean other-than-regular-meetings?

    In my other life, I’m an AHG leader, and we split the difference. Annual permission slip for those regular troop meetings, event permission slips for everything else. Seems a logical solution to me, but I’m still catching up on BSA policies.

    • K.C. You’re not being obtuse. Just reading too quickly through the text. These forms are for outings/activities, not regular unit meetings. You do not need permission for regular meetings, because paying membership fees each year implies consent.

      • So these forms are just for outings/activities. So you don’t need them for a regular troop/pack meeting… or even a PLC meeting, a court of honor, a patrol meeting, or an OA chapter meeting. Right?

        Now obviously things like summer camp, an overnight weekend campout or even a simple day-hike should require one – they are all outings/activities, after all.

        But what about those simple local activities that fall somewhere between “regular meeting” and “outing” (such as a Saturday troop JLT, a distric Pinewood derby, a swim night at a local pool, food shopping for a campout, an Eagle Scout service project at the church where our troop meets, a troop car wash in the local high school parking lot, a pack/family picnic at a nearby park, etc.)? Or what if your “regular” troop meetings including special activities (such as an orienteering course that takes Scouts through the local park that neighbors your meeting place, etc.)?

        What is the line for “needs” and “does not need” a permission slip. We’ve always gone with: overnight activities, far-away activities (things outside our council/district boundaries), or situations where Scouts are meeting and then being transported by the unit leaders somewhere else.

        But should I have Scouts bring a signed slip of paper every time we gather or do something outside of our charter organization’s designated meeting space? That would basically mean I’d need a signed slip of paper from every Scout every time I see them! Eagle Scout courts of honor? Christmas caroling? Scouting for Food? District round tables? A Cub Scout den visiting a Boy Scout troop? An OA team visiting a troop to conduct a unit election? A troop cleaning up trash in a local park? What’s the line for “needs” and “does not need.” If everything needs one, I’m looking at well over 15,000 slips a year just for my troop!

        • As part of the Eagle Scout project, both troops I’ve been in require the boy to have a permission slip before others in the troop can come along and help out.If anything, it at least lets the parents know where the boy is and what he’s doing.

        • It says RECOMMENDED, only REQUIRED for flight activity or if the state requires something.

  3. This is an excelent question and answer that all unit leaders need to see. There are many interpretations out there and lots of apathy for yet more paperwork. This will dig up any issues or problems that may not be at the surface that leaders need to know about their scouts for safe scouting. Thanks for posting this! By the way, LOVE the use of a fountain pen for a visual (my hobby passion).

  4. That wasnt a very good explanation of WHY annual permission slips aren’t acceptable. Seems like, if you are an active troop, you’ll need another volunteer position to handle the paperwork load.

    • They aren’t acceptable because you need a new permission slip for each activity. One that covers “everything our unit may do this year” simply doesn’t suffice.

      • For example, going shopping for groceries is a relatively safe activity, but rock climbing and winter camping are a bit more risky and as such the parents should know what’s going on.

        • There are 10,000 times more lawsuits over shopping per hour shopping than rock climbing or winter camping. 🙂 Risk has nothing to do with litigation.

      • They aren’t acceptable because they aren’t acceptable still is not an answer to Roy’s question of WHY they are not acceptable.

        One of the comments above hints at a justification – to make sure parents know what their scouts are doing. But that is an assumption rather than being explicitly stated and it’s contradicted by the language on the form that says the form is merely recommended (unless you’re flying).

        In particular, that justification rings hollow for Tiger and Cub Scouts who may not go on any event without a parent or guardian right there.

    • “Of course, our goal in all of this is to make sure that parents are aware of the kind of activities their youth will be participating in.”
      Activity-specific permission slips keep parents informed and in the event of a mishap prevent anyone from claiming shock and ignorance of where Johnny was and why he was doing it. You activity coordinator (whether it rotates or is one person each month) should be able to handle handing them out and collecting them without the help of another person.

  5. Our troop uses an annual permission slip and an individual outing permission slip.

    The annual one includes the details from the parents we all got tired of putting on every form for every outing. Things like insurance info and medications.

    The event form has the event details and allows for updates to the annual form details if there are any.

    Before we went to this approach, we had some parents print out labels and just slap them on the event form since the format was always the same. An easy enough solution but quite a waste.

  6. Don’t you love an answer that reads “…we do not recommend…” which to the engineer in me translates to “nothing says you can’t do it.” We need to give clear instruction and guidance. I.e., if we want people to use individual permission slips for each activity, then we need to say so and not equivocate.

    • And the lawyer in me reads, “a recommendation is not the same as a requirement.”

      If they meant “required,” they’d say, “required.”

  7. Bryan, I am glad to see this conversation brought up. Our troop uses the official Activity Consent Form for all our outings but we recently were trying to come up with an electronic version that would do away with the paper. We already have online sign up forms for our outings and were hoping for some guidance on how to implement a paperless consent form. The biggest hurdle is that we would need to capture the adult consent. Any thoughts? Perhaps you could refer me to someone that can help us with this?

  8. I understand the need for permission slips as stated (“make sure that parents are aware of the kind of activities their youth will be participating in”) but does this really apply to Tigers, where their adult is required to be with them at all times? Our Wolf has never been to an event without one of us, yet we keep filling out permission slips over and over. Obviously we give permission, or we wouldn’t be bringing him!

    • You’d be surprised. I’ve had many events where adults don’t pay attention, don’t help, don’t do anything (even if they are there) and complain that no one told their scout not to throw rocks/go in the creek/pick up sticks/call each other names. When asked why they didn’t stop the bad behavior, the reply? I’m not the leader.

      Yes, they’re right. With that mentality, thank God they aren’t the leader. Time for parents to be parents.

  9. 1. Permission slips give you “permission” to take the kids someplace. See Legal Liability & Risk Management for Public and Private Entities by van der Smissen. In many states the name alone defeats the purpose.
    2. Only 14 states allow a parent to sign away a minor’s right to sue so even a release has limited value. However a release is valuable in 14 state were a permission slip has no value in any state.
    3. In 36 states you need to prove the parent and the child knew and understood the risk of the activity that injured the minor.

    It is great that Scouting has finally moved forward on this issue. However the information is not close to correct. Contact a local attorney to find out how to protect you and the BSA. Annual releases are acceptable by the courts in all states. You don’t need one signed for each activity.

  10. Bryan, something else my boys’ Troop took into consideration is that an “annual” medical is not usually up to date, especially when there are medications, medical issues, or disabilities. We added a line at the bottom in which the parent/guardian could indicate if there had been any changes since the previous medical, providing the SM in Charge (SMIC) with the most up-to-date information for emergencies. Perhaps, National might want to consider something like this, too?

  11. Simple wau to do this is to have parents download and store the official permission slip after filling out the non-changing info (scout’s name, address, etc.) Then when an activity is scheduled, of course give an info sheet with the request for all the info you need that is not on the permission slip, and indicate how to fill in certain fields on the permission slip (activity, date, whether parent is driving and how many scouts can be carried in care, ins coverage, etc.). and indicate how to fill in certain fields on the official permission slip (date, activity name, etc.) Have them submit both when scout registers for the activity.

    With regard to the fountain pen – neat, eyecatching. Unfortunately, since penmanship is lost art, request that the forms be filled out on the computer and printed, so that in an emergency, when you actually need the info, you can actually read it..

    I am concerned that too many of the comments effectively start out with, “well, what we do is…….” rather than “We use the official forms, and then gather additional information on our forms.” While I am sure that you could effectively compose a form which captures all that the official one does, you CYA if you use the official forms.

  12. Great article! I was wondering the exact same things. Parents whine about them for every event but really it takes only two minutes to fill them out. No big deal. I usually email to parents the consent form and ask them to bring them filled out when they bring their son to the event. I also print a few blank copies just in case a few forget.

  13. To follow up with that, what I should probably do is collect consent forms before the day of the event – be prepared – I believe when you do the online Tour Plan you do have to attest to having those forms as part of your plan already collected and ready to go. Is that correct?

  14. This just underscores the lack in our time of direct communication. My dad spoke to and KNEW everyone’s parent in my Troop. When he dropped me off for a camping trip at the church, he knew where I was going and who I was with because he SPOKE with them. They had his permission to carry me, chastise me, wrap my wounds, and if not , they heard from him DIRECTLY.
    There was not any drop off and come back later. He also carried Scouts to and from “activities”, (no seat belts) ( shoehorned in amongst the gear in the back of the station wagon). My folks gave their consent to my going by dint of their TALKING to the Scoutmaster and his cohorts. If there was a mimeograph about the trip, it was HANDED to them at the meeting, by the ASMs or by ME. If I didn’t show up, well, then, it was because I didn’t have permission! Simple as that.
    Maybe my permission was predicated on my paying the fee, maybe on my getting homework done, or such. If I didn’t have my gear together, that was me, not my mom (for sure) or dad. Dad would often ask me if I needed anything else, and we’d go down to Sunny’s Surplus and pick it up, if we couldn’t make or have it around the house; but that’s another blog, I guess.
    Permission slips? Contacts? Medical issues? Cell phones? Yes, we know more about surviving in the “wilds”, and we know more about food allergies and other health issues, but it all boils down to COMMUNICATION and TRUST between people to do the right thing for our children.

    Yeah , and who uses a fountain pen to sign things now? Use the app for that!

    • “Greenbar” Bill Hillcourt’s 1955 Patrol Leader’s Handbook directs Patrol Leaders to get a permission note from parents before embarking on patrol trips. Permission slips aren’t a new invention in Scouting.

    • The solution isn’t to try to go back in time but move forward. Sign the paper, put them in the car, and go have fun.

  15. We use our own permission slip. The top third of the form has details on the outing (location, drop off and pick up times, do they need to pack a lunch, etc.), that the parent can tear off and keep. The bottom portion has the emergency contact information, release language thatthe parent signs, and a code of conduct statement the scout signs.

  16. What’s the point of part A of the medical form if it’s not providing consent to do the activities? We struggle with the idea of doing permission slips because it just adds more paperwork that has to be tracked.Then you could make the argument that we should be maintaining copies of these permission slips for xx years in case the family comes back and sues down the road.

  17. Releases often are not really legally enforceable. And when they are, they only cover things that the releasor “knowingly released” — known risks. So an “annual release” is not a good idea — the releasor probably cannot reasonably be deemed to have been “informed” in the legal sense to give the release.

    Nonetheless, releases are useful to gather information, obtain consents and the sometimes to limit issues later.

    • Adults should sign a release also. The issues that adult sue for in BSA context are the same as most things. Something the other volunteer did injured me or I did not know of that risk.

      Remember, a lot of these lawsuits may not be because the adult wants to sue but because his health or disability policy is doing so in the injured persons name under their right to subrogation.

  18. I am on the flip side of the issue. I run our camp climbing tower on off-season weekends. We had a council “hold-harmless” form that was to be filled out. If they came with out the form, no climbing (adults too). We had blanks, but who really signed the form?
    Then came the section on the health form. Now if we accept the health form, we have no record in hand.
    I like the idea of using the national health form so that they can participate in what ever activities are offered at camp.

  19. Glad this topic came up. Our son’s troop recently tried to go to an annual permission slip, and was told by our local Council that it could not do so. However, somewhere in the process of dealing with that, someone brought to the attention of my husband and myself an issue that has come to concern us. It’s related to the Hold Harmless Agreement on the Activity Consent Form (which states that we release the BSA, local council, etc., from “any and all claims or liability arising out of this participation”), and the Release Agreement on Part A of the Health Form (which states that we “completely release and waive any and all claims for personal injury, death, or loss that may arise” against the BSA, local council, etc.)
    From these statements, we are wondering:
    1. Exactly what does agreeing to the above mean in the event that a claim should happen to arise? On the one hand, we’ve heard that these releases are simply meant to discourage people from bringing a claim against the issuing party, but don’t necessarily prevent anyone from bringing a claim, and that many courts find them void for various reasons. However, we’ve also heard that some courts will uphold these types of agreements, even when a valid claim is brought up. We’re willing to accept that we’re not going to sue the BSA et al if all safety measures are in place and yet an accident somehow occurs in which our son is injured. But, what happens in cases of gross negligence? Will the “ANY AND ALL CLAIMS” part still release the BSA et al from any liability?
    2. What do these releases imply in terms of a troop’s adult leaders? Does this mean that the adult leaders cannot be held legally responsible for the boys while the boys are in their care?
    We’d appreciate any help in attempting to better understand these agreements and their implications.

    • Releases work in 44-45 states for adults. A release if written correctly works against all claims by adults. For kids releases work in about 12 states. But they can also be used as prove the minor assumed the risk.

      Yes, while in the custody and control of an adult leader the adult leader is legally liable for the injuries of a youth. The degree of knowledge attributable to the youth varies by state and can be used as a defense. Your homeowners/condo/or renter’s insurance provides you money for your defense.

      Unless what you are hearing is from an attorney, it is only gossip.

  20. I already am annoyed that not only at the beginning of the school year do I have to fill out form after form with emergency contacts and medical/dental insurance info, but each time any of my children goes on a field trip, I have a new permission form to fill out and I have to, yet again, fill out my emergency contacts (which are already up to date at the school) and medical/dental info (which, again, is already up to date at the school). It’s not only too much paperwork, but our health insurance # is my husband’s social (we’re military) and I don’t like having it out there on so many pieces of paper all year long.

    Now onto the cub scout side. I’m the CC and the parents in my pack fill out part A and B, which I keep in the pack binder along with the latest copy of Guide to safe scouting. When we go on camporees or other pack events, it comes with me. We haven’t done anything strenuous or dangerous for the boys as a pack, and when the boys go on a go See it, their parents attend. If we need yet another form for each trip to the zoo (where there is no carpooling, every parent drives their own kid, etc), can we print out one slip, have each parent read it and sign it below? This would ensure each parent agrees and understands, but would eliminate paper and ink. I know, paper and ink costs seems like a small thing compared to safety, but I’m the one printing up the stuff, and I don’t have a spare printer to devote to cub stuff only.

    So is one sheet per den acceptable, with all attending parents signing one sheet?

    • I don’t recommend keeping a binder of health forms on scouts. All kinds of confidential information there. No way would I want yo be responsible for that.

      • That’s just how my past 5 packs have done it (that sounds like we pack-hop, but we’re military and it’s necessary) At my current district we are told for district camporees to have part a and b filled out and carry them to the camporee. Once the parents in your pack fill out part A and B, what do you do with them? I’ll switch the way we do things if you have a better solution. Right now I’m just more confused by the point of part b if it doesn’t really count for much, unless the point of it is only to cover regularly scheduled den and pack meetings.

        • I carry the medicals to every outing. I have one of those expandable plastic flies (with the elastic band around it). All medicals are in alphabetical order — including adults.

          This file is in a bag with our AED and all adult leaders (as well as the SPL) know where the bag is located (usually in my tent).

      • Unless I’m mistaken, you are supposed to take the forms with you.

        Twice in the past four months I’ve had scouts need medical attention on an outing. Once a scout fell while on a ski trip and had to get rescued by ski patrol (yes, he was wearing a helmet). The other time a scout fell had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital with a possible broken bone.

        In both cases I had the medical forms with me and simply gave them to the doctor to gather all of the information they needed (medications, allergies, contact info, insurance info etc…).

        That’s why we have them.

      • If you don’t have them with you, what good are they in an emergency? We have an accordion binder that we keep them in listed in alphabetical order.

      • There is no point to filling out the health form if you won’t have it with you when the scout gets hurt. Yes, it’s a HIPAA security nightmare but what do you propose to do instead? Tell little Johnny to keep pressure on the wound while you drive all the way back home to get the form so the doctors at the hospital can know about his medical allergies and history? You have to fill them out and you have to have a copy accessible at the event.

  21. With no disrespect or sarcasm intended, did anybody read the forms?

    With the exception of the start and end date to be written in on the permission slip, the entire hold harmless language from the permission slip is on the “Part A: Informed Consent, Release Agreement, and Authorization” section of the Annual Health and Medical form. It’s almost word for word exactly the same. Where there is a very minor change, the Part A is better written.

    This is silly and it’s a nightmare for your activities person!

    Do we leave a kid in the parking lot because mom dropped him off and forgot to sign the form and can’t seem to be reached to come back? Can’t really do that either. Consider these actions from the parents. Along the way for each event they A) signed either form, B) RSVP’d for the event in whatever fashion your unit uses, C) paid for the event, and D) drove to the meeting place and dropped of little Sam Scout in uniform on a Friday night with all of his gear for a weekend trip. These actions all adds up to actively expressed and implied consent and permission.

    Mr. Bourlon states that “We do not recommend annual permission slips”. We can get very legalistic with other items and find every opportunity in advancement rules to find must, mays, shals and shal-nots in an effort to find where we can make out own decisions. I read recommend as open ended as well.

    The Guide to Safe Scouting is silent on the form of permission slip used or the frequency at which it must or should be updated. It simply states “Permission are secured”. It further state that “Parts A and B are to be completed at least annually by participants in all Scouting events. This health history, parent or guardian informed consent and hold harmless/release agreement, and talent release statement are to be completed by the participant and parents or guardians.” I searched and read each section that contained the words: permission, consent and annual.

    The Tour Plan simply asks if “Do you have a signed Activity Consent and Approval form for each youth on trip?” Again, this form says the exact same thing as the annual form.

    Asking for a new signature annually along with the actions above seems reasonable. Lets not make extra and unnecessary work for volunteers and barriers to participation for Scouts. Especially barriers that may not be anything they can control ie: parents.

    By the way, with the ability given to write in start and end dates on the permission form, and with the language being the same, why would writing in Jan 1 and Dec 31 and doing this form annually be any different than the current Annual Health form?

    • I 100% agree with you Dave. We just started doing tour plans this year and when it asked about a signed form, we took a look at the language between the health form and BSA permission slip and said, “Yep, we got it covered on the health form”. Same basic language, so why torment the parents (and the volunteers) with more paperwork. For every camping trip, we put together a flyer with details about what will happen on the trip and a packing list for the boys. They read that, pay the camping fees, & drop off their son in our care. Sounds like consent to me!!! Another example of the BSA creating more busy-work for the volunteers.

  22. For those thinking this is a paper work nightmare it isn’t. Having worked under both our permission slips with all info for all events and our annual permission slip for the static info and event permission slip for event specific stuff it’s not hard to do.

    We always carried copies of the medical forms out with us anyway but now that notebook is both medical and annual permission slips. The outing adult leaders also keeps all the event permission slips and they generally just sit in his vehicle until the next meeting.

    If you want to see our approach the blank forms are here:

    along with two filled out forms for last weekend’s backpacking outing. The outing leader has more to fill out on the event slip than the scout’s parent does.

    Our charter organization rep is one of the areas bigger lawyers and his hands are all over this. He wanted to both reduce the work on each parent and cover us and I think he did a good job.

      • Troop 343 seems to have one of the better solutions. The fact that a knowledgeable attorney crafted it rather than a well meaning layperson makes me feel pretty good about it too.

        • One would hope that the BSA is using forms that are crafted by someone who is at the very least knowledgable in legal matters of this type.

      • Annual with the repeated info but event specific to get the scout’s and parent’s signatures. Eases the pain point of the repeated form for every event but covers every event with its own form.

  23. ** disclaimer – I skipped the majority of the comments, so I speak in full ignorance (but saved some time) ***

    At a Cub Scout pack campout or if our pack goes to a district or council campout, since a parent (guardian) must be present, it follows by some natural order of things that if their scout child is there, it must be by their permission / consent.

    Granted – that’s probably an archaic way to think.

    • Exactly. Maybe there should be a different part b for cubs, since parents accompany them on all overnights, camporees etc. It’s not archaic at all.

  24. I don’t know. I go with the idea that the BSA wants us to do it, but there is a reason it’s not required. If it were required…it’d be required – but it’s not. It’s that simple. If I have the parent sign a form before we go camping this weekend, that’s not going to stop him from blaming the troop and scouting if something happens to his kid. The form does not explain all the risks. It just says that we are going camping this weeknd at such and such a place. All the parent has to do it say, “I didnt know there would be that type of risk…they just shoved a form in my face and told me I had to sign it or my kid could not go camping.” -because that is what most leaders are doing.

    I would think an annual form would suffice, but I’d like to believe the Health Form would also suffice.

    Lost of good questions above, and many of the bext ones still go unanswered.

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