We all need to be more aware of bullying
It used to be said that bullying was a rite of passage that children and young people had to go through, that it ‘toughened you up’ and taught you how to ‘stand up for yourself’.
These nasty stereotypes may still not be completely dead but thankfully, most people now recognise them for the nonsense they are.
This week marks Anti Bully Week and some of the statistics from the Anti-Bullying Alliance make for very disturbing reading. Their recent report states that nationally, 24% of children surveyed said they were bullied once a week or more, 11% had missed school because of bullying and 19% had avoided social media or gaming because of it.
Here in Dorset, our Safe Schools and Communities Team (SSCT) are visiting primary and secondary schools across the county throughout the week to speak to nearly 2,000 pupils about bullying.
These sessions are carried out in very different ways depending on whether the team are talking to seven-year-olds or to teenagers, but they cover a wide variety of issues including what young people should do if they are bullied, how to help others who are being bullied, and issues around online bullying.
The team will also be running a competition for young people aged 11 and under to design an anti-bullying poster, with the winner selected on Friday.
The SSCT is a partnership between my office, Dorset Police and the Combined Youth Offending Service, and has been expanded in recent years thanks to increased funding I have provided.
Bullying is a huge issue for the team, and they regularly attend schools across the county that have experienced issues.
But they also work across a wide range of other areas and intervene in cases where young people are at risk of being criminalised.
Young people often don’t realise how much of a negative impact a criminal record can have – it can close down opportunities and push them towards a life in which criminality ends up being the only option. Our approach is to get in early, work with young people and push them in another direction.
The SSCT operates an intervention system with top priority given to cases where calls have been made to the police about incidents involving pupils from local schools.
In these cases, including reports of antisocial behaviour, officers work directly with schools, talking directly to the young people involved.
The digital world can be a harmful place, and as well as online bullying, officers often talk to young people – and sometimes parents – about ‘sexting’, explaining the law as well as the fact that once images are online they are there forever.
In many cases where bullying or online harm has been reported, officers hold sessions with much wider groups, making sure individual incidents do not become wider problems. I’m happy to say this approach appears to be working, with the number of incidents the team manages decreasing to 742 last year, from 853 the year before and 951 in 2016-17.
The service has come in for praise, even winning national awards, but one of the best accolades I have heard came from Julie Murphy, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council’s Education Safeguarding Adviser.
She said: “Teachers can tell children online bullying or ‘sexting’ is wrong, but if you have someone coming in to the school wearing a police uniform, that can have a far bigger impact and be supportive to school staff.
“It’s a brilliant service, well respected by local schools and is likely to have prevented many more serious incidents from taking place.”
Bullying can have a horrific effect on young people and can have repercussions well into adulthood.
It may not be a problem that can be ‘solved’ but it is something we all need to be aware of. Young people need to know where to go for help if it happens to them, while teachers and other professionals need to know how to spot the signs that a young person is being bullied.
The work of the SSCT is going a long way in helping achieve this.