We address you with a letter inspired by the desire to make children’s voices and views about bullying and safety at school listened to throughout Europe.
For the last two years our seven organizations have been involved as a partnership in a project funded under the Daphne Programme, “Introducing Participatory and Child-Centered Approach for Early Identification and Prevention of Bullying in School Setting in 7 EU Countries”, JUST/2013/DAP/AG/5372.
The overall aim of the project has been to involve children in preventing bullying and in creating safe environment at school in a participatory and empowering way. That means taking account of the child’s point of view in all our procedures and practices concerning the prevention of bullying in school environment. Here practices, policies, interventions and lessons learned were taken from seven European countries: Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Romania, the United Kingdom, Slovak Republic, Germany and Sweden.
The project has provided space for children from these seven countries to share their perspective on bullying and on what they need to feel safe. Through drawings and various projective techniques children have expressed their thoughts, emotions, anxieties and their expectations so as to help adults understand their needs for safety and protection. All of this has been captured in a book entitled “LISTEN!”
One of the things we could attest with this project is that talking with children, especially in non-threatening groups- is the preferred option. The emphasis is on ‘non-threatening’, or more ‘child-friendly’ terms: in talks with children, we, adults should accept children as ‘experts’, more than as equals, not impose our own opinions and remain open to views that may clash with our own. As the project has shown, children in turn have many other ways of expressing their emotions, ideas and wishes. It has produced a veritable trove of such visible talent as drawings, pictures, stories, posters, messages. Indispensable, of course are the interactions between children and adults in their roles of parents, older siblings, teachers, other professionals.
The most beneficial task for all of them is to take each other seriously, trust, and be open and prepared to learn from each other. Parents, teachers and social services are of course at the core of things; in doing so, they should, and will, get more sensitised to the needs of their children and learn to respond adequately to their signals at an early stage. But other ‘adults’, such as policy makers, media professionals, community leaders, researchers, trainers, and many others, should become aware of and contribute to the debate and practice of banning bullying from the lives of their children. The following cannot be over stressed:
• Listen to children.
• Be open to their emotions and arguments.
• Take them seriously.
• Recognize that children have great potential as thinkers, helpers, problem solvers, and guides.
The foregone conclusion is clear and without any doubt: bullying is bad for everybody; there are no winners, only losers. As everything is in an ever-accelerating shift everywhere, policies, approaches, interventions and even understanding should be revisited and updated continuously. Perhaps the only constant in all of this is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which should keep on inspiring and informing everybody. But the CRC should not be treated as a static document otherwise it will lose its meaning; it should continue to permeate all layers of society and be continuously updated. Everybody will stand to benefit. It is the adults in their capacity of carers, income-generators, voters and carriers of experience and knowledge who should take the lead in this, but, and this is what is plain from the research and case-studies: they can’t do this on their own.
SET OF RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTIONS:
At central/national level:
1. Including into all national strategy documents on regulating children’s well-being, the aspects regarding prevention and intervention in situations of bullying, depending on the objectives and specific implications of each of these strategies on the well-being and quality of life.
2. Increasing awareness of the population regarding the traumatic consequences bullying behavior has on the psycho-social development of the child, regardless of said child’s position in relation to the studied phenomenon (victim, bully, witness), through campaigns of public interest, carried out with the support and involvement of the central institutions.
3. Developing educational materials meant directly for parents, as well as for professionals in the fields of education, healthcare and social protection, that interact with children, meant to increase the level of grownups’ knowledge regarding identification, recognizing and intervention methods and techniques in situations when children generate/are victims/witnesses of bullying behavior.
4. Developing and piloting programs for building social and emotional skills, available in kindergartens, schools, high schools, and adapted to the different stages of life of the children (pre-school, school, teenage years), as a fundamental prevention mechanism of bullying behavior among children.
5. Integrating the multidisciplinary perspective – education, healthcare, child protection – into drafting prevention/intervention programmes in cases when bullying behavior occurs.
6. Encouraging lifelong education programmes for teaching staff and school counselors, in order for the early recognition and proper management of cases of bullying in educational context.
7. Encouraging lifelong education programmes for the teaching staff in order to gain minimal knowledge regarding methods and techniques of positive education and behavior management in the classroom.
8. Developing communication networks and work methodologies among professionals in the field of education – healthcare – child protection.
Given the high correlation between the (physical and/or emotional) abuse of the child in the family and the latter’s involvement in bullying as victim and/or bully, the following are recommended:
• Opening parent education centres and support services for the child and the family in each county in the country;
• Developing parent education competences of the professionals that interact with parents in an educational context and not only (e.g. teachers, kindergarten teachers, paediatricians, MDs, psychologists, social workers, etc.);
• Funding services and programmes meant for parents, in order to increase their accessibility amongst the population;
• Implementing at national level public awareness raising campaigns regarding the negative consequences abuse generates on the development of the child, consequences that include the high risk of an abused child to become an bully/victim in a situation of bullying;
At school level:
1. Including in the school rules the fundamental aspects for the identification, recognition and early intervention in cases where bullying behaviour is signalled and publicly displaying such rules;
2. Increasing awareness regarding the risks of bullying for the protection and health of the children, amongst all the stakeholders involved in education: teachers, admin staff, parents, students;
3. Drafting clear procedures for the adequate management of the situations of bullying;
4. Involving the students in drafting strategies and solutions for eliminating bullying behavior, in compliance with the specific, local needs of each school;
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
Based on what the children have told us we are clear that even in times when money is scarce, in order to sensitize society to the realities of some children’s lives, to prevent violence and bullying and to intervene appropriately, children need effective support to help them, their parents and teachers. Above all they need support from people who listen. Do not take our word for it. Read the clear messages direct from the voices of children.
Talk about bullying
• In general
• Semi-structured discussions with peers
• With an specialist external to the school
Take children’s experiences, feedback and contributions seriously and follow up
Have solid anti-bullying policies and strategies
• More than one
• Proactive approach
• In discussion with children and teachers
• Ensure peer mediation or peer involvement
• To have a large group on the side of the victim
• Talking with each other, playing with each other
• Giving responsibility to the children
Create a good atmosphere and have a proper attitude
And the children have a message for policy makers too: Policy makers should make it possible for those whose profession is to help children to be able to listen, to take time and show patience.
Partnership of 7 EU organisations:
Animus Association Foundation, Bulgaria (coordinator)
Barnardo’s, United Kingdom
Göteborg Stad, Sweden
International Child Development Initiatives (ICDI), The Netherlands
Linka Detskej Istoty (LDI), Slovakia
Salvati Copii, Save the Children, Romania
SPI Forschung, Germany