Open Letter to the Girl Guide Association

Once upon a time, far too many moons ago, I was a Girl Guide.
I have many fond memories from that time and I recall our group being supportive, open, warm and encouraging to all girls. We were proud of the fact we pooled our skills and helped each other where there were weaknesses. I learnt a great deal from my time there which I carry forward into the work I do today.

I'm sure the Girl Guide Association has moved on greatly over the last 30 years, as has the Scout Movement. I expect the activities are even more thrilling, the skills imparted more practical, the events better organised and the ethos even more inclusive.

I'm sure, then, that you are as saddened as I to hear of a less than welcoming Brown Owl. One whose reluctance about accepting a new Guide with a learning disability was aired.

I am always one to think of both sides in every situation, and you may well simply have a woman here who was nervous about whether she had the skills to adapt to teaching a young lady whose learning styles differ, but who expressed those concerns wrongly.
Perhaps she felt she would need additonal training or to alter her working style, and that filled her with dread.
Perhaps she has a personal experience of disability which is painful for her. After all people manifest guilt and remorse and pain in a miriad of ways.
Perhaps her ideas are genuinely not up to what the Guide Movement expects and she is in the wrong role.

Wise words for us all from model Natty Goleniowska who has Down's Syndrome

Either way I feel heavy-hearted, not only for the girl and her family who feel offended, but also for the lady in question, who has clearly been denied the benefits of a truly inclusive society. For inclusion is a two-way street which we were denied growing up in this country many years ago.  Our children's generation are lucky to have friends with learning disabilities, who teach them a different way of viewing the world and the most important lesson of all, which is acceptance, something this lady lacks.
I think the guides she is claiming to wish to protect could teach her much on this important lesson in life.

This situation is not like many I find myself writing to resolve; countering those like former UKiP candidate Geoffery Clark who called for compulsory termination of babies with disabilities (OPEN LETTER TO MR CLARK), or supporting a family whose daughter with Down's Syndrome is being forced out of a school in Malaysia by other, ignorant, parents taking legal action against her.
No, this is a more widespread, insipid kind of prejudice and discrimination but which is thankfully easier to change through education.

I do think a public response would do much to allay the public anger that has arisen from this incident and I await your reply, which I will publish to the thousands of families and professions within our network.

I would also like to offer my services as a speaker and trainer in inclusion and disability for institutions such as yours.

I very much hope that the 12 year old girl in question will feel fully welcomes into one of your groups shortly, as I hope both our girls will be when the time comes. None of should let a blip like this stop us seeking mainstream activities for our children.

I leave you with a post I wrote about the true nature of inclusion, through our children's eyes.

Hayley Goleniowska
Author of Europe's Top Down's Syndrome Blog: DOWNS SIDE UP
Mum of ambassador and model NATTY GOLENIOWSKA, 6, who has Down's Syndrome
Speaker, campaigner, writer, trainer, educator, expert in Down's Syndrome
Facebook: Downs Side Up
Twitter: @DownsSideUp

"Changing perceptions of Down's Syndrome gently from within hearts"


The Girl Guides later responded favourably with the following statement:

Girlguiding UK is open to all girls and young women. This is one of our most important values – and we strive to uphold it in all circumstances. We are very proud to have many young members with Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities. And we would like to welcome more. We encourage all our volunteers to include young members with disabilities and we have a network of special needs advisors and specific resources to support them in this. 

It is very difficult to comment on an individual circumstance without knowing the details. However, we are very saddened if any potential young member, and their family, feels they have been excluded from joining us. We very much hope to have a conversation with the family and the volunteer as quickly as possible to support them both to find a way to include this girl in guiding – and be a full part of everything we offer. 

We would encourage anybody with concerns to contact our membership support services: 

Julie Bentley 
Chief Executive


  1. As a former Brown Owl and current Tawny Owl I am so sorry that this girl has received such a negative treatment from a member of Girl Guiding. As volunteers for Girl Guiding we are trained to a certain level and as our experience grows, what we can offer to the girls does as well. There is a network of support provided for adults from an even more dedicated network of volunteers who often run their own units as well as advising on all issues - disabilities and inclusivity being one of them.

    I've been a leader for nearly 20 years and worked with a number of girls with a variety of difficulties, be they physical, emotional, classifiable or not and have always tried to make everything we do as inclusive as possible. It's not easy but I personally believe that it's an integral part of Guiding - and I know that there are many many other leaders doing the same.

    1. Jenny, thank you for your reply. I am sure most leaders are exemplary and this was a simple case of lack of training. The girl had autism as it happened. Girl guiding has made a satisfactory reply.
      I wish we could be part of your troop :))

  2. Hayley,

    I am impressed by your calm and intelligent response. Your point about inclusion being a two-way street gave me goosebumps.

    Girl guiding can be a wonderful community. For me it brought out skills, confidence and friendships outside the school environment which I was very grateful for.


    1. Thank you. Guides and Scout movements are wonderful and I am sure this was just an isolated incident which has been nipped in the bud.

  3. I'm hoping that this particular group is a rarity and that GG UK has not gone completely "Mean Girls" (as it sounds like NO ONE would be welcome in that little clique). I'm heartened by the response you have gotten so far. Well done as always, Hayley. xox

    1. Thank you Jen. High praise from you indeed. I think it was an isolated incident and has been dealt with admirably. Fingers crossed anyway.

  4. I am a rainbow leader, brownies leader and mum to a wonderful 14 year old boy with down syndrome. As a leader we have successfully included a number of girls with various disabilities and adapted our program to ensure that everybody is equally included. The key to our success was ensuring that we had a leader available to offer assistance if required. My son with our support attended both beavers and cubs and thoroughly enjoyed it. Scouts however was too late and we did not feel he would enjoy the activities. I do hope you are successful as the guide association has lots to offer all girls. Good luck x

    1. Thank you Debbie. I loved Guides as a girl and my neice now adores Scouts, both have such a lot to offer. I understand the family in question are now discussing possibilities and yes, I will consider sending both daughter when they are old enough (time and location allowing).


Thank you for joining in the conversation at Downs Side Up