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Sandra Ositelu

Bullying amongst children and young people: another complex challenge

National Anti-Bullying Week, which took place recently aims to raise awareness of the impact that bullying has on children and young people. This year, the theme was ‘United Against Bullying’. I have been reflecting on my own experiences working with children and young people, and – in line with the theme of this year’s campaign – asked myself ‘how have I united against bullying?’

In my previous roles working directly with young people, I have often only seen the after-effects of bullying, and these were often extreme cases. I could share many examples where bullying has not only impacted on a child’s learning and mental health but also, unfortunately, changed the trajectory of their lives.

In extreme cases, bullying can result in being moved to alternative provision, experiencing child sexual exploitation, being criminalised – and even in ending up in prison as a result of victims retaliating against their bullies. Some of the young people I worked with already had adverse life experiences, and their difficulties were exacerbated by the bullying they experienced.

Given that 20% of young people reported being bullied last year, it sometimes feels like bullying is seen as a normal part of growing up. Alarmingly, Ditch the Label’s annual bullying survey for 2020 highlights that bullying has increased approximately 25% over the last 12 months. Bullying can impact anything from mental health, social relationships and acceptance by peers, and school (in terms of either attendance, progress, or both). We must also recognise that some children may be more vulnerable to it, particularly those that have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), have experienced care, are adopted or are from an ethnic background and living in less diverse places.

My recent work with IMPOWER has included working with a council to develop an early help and inclusion programme in children’s services. One focus has been looking at the possible underlying issues of a raised presenting concern – recognising that this is an essential factor in early help. This made me reflect on what an early anti-bullying intervention might look like.

Existing bullying policies tend to look at prevention and promoting inclusion, or at moving victims of bullying to other schools or alternative provisions to limit the impact on their education in worrying cases. But there appears to be less of an emphasis on looking at the underlying issues of people who bully. Children who bully may end up being excluded from school, which may do more harm than good. Would it not be better to form a united response around this child, the victim and their families? Like all the problems that public services deal with, this is a complex problem – which can only be solved by acknowledging and managing that complexity.

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