Foster carers are likely to be aware of the annual Anti-Bullying Campaign week promoted by the Anti-Bullying Alliance. This year the theme was ‘Change Starts With Us’ and will be promoted in schools right across England. Everyone in society, not just parents and foster carers has to be concerned about bullying. Indeed, it is not only children who are affected by it. Many adults suffer the consequences of bullying too. But if the problem can be tackled in schools, we can work to create a culture over the medium and long-term that consigns such behaviour to history. It is all about changing attitudes and defining what is unacceptable.
Perversely, the inexorable rise of social media has in many ways made the problem of bullying far worse. In the past children could at least escape their tormentors when school ended and they could feel safe at home. Social media has put paid to this meaning that many children suffer the effects of bullying 24 hrs a day. Foster children may be at increased because of the stigma that can attach to fostering, but like all children, it’s possible they are not even safe in their own bedrooms. This is highly disturbing. It means some of our children exist where they have no sense of peace or refuge. Should we be surprised that so many are succumbing to mental health problems? Because of these facts, strenuous efforts now have to be made to deal with bullying head-on. It is a societal problem of major proportions. What was particularly encouraging about this year’s campaign is that it’s the children themselves who are lobbying for change. And why? A poll in advance of this years campaign has revealed that children are avoiding school, social media and even developing a social life, so they can avoid the risks of bullying. As many as twenty-four per cent of children reported being bullied once a week or more; eleven per cent have said they have even missed school due to bullying. Sadly, nearly one child in every classroom – equating to three per cent – admitted to being bullied every day. It would be interesting to know how these numbers break down in relation to foster children.
These poll results have been drawn from a survey of over 1,000 eleven to sixteen-year-olds. This work was produced by the Anti-Bullying Alliance in advance of this year’s campaign which will be rolled out across more than three-quarters of schools. The ABA worked with children to develop the theme whose aims are –
“Small change. Big difference. Whether it is verbal, physical, online or in-person, bullying has significant a impact on a child’s life well into adulthood. By making small, simple changes, we can break this cycle and create a safe environment for everyone. Because together, we can challenge bullying. Change starts with a conversation. It starts with checking in. It starts with work together. Change starts here. Change starts now, Change starts with us.”
The campaign, based in school settings, will work to build awareness amongst children, young people, parents and this will include foster carers, that in order to stop bullying, a collective effort and responsibility is required.
Building on success.
It’s clear that the effects of bullying are widespread and pernicious. The work of the ABA is to be applauded, as it’s clear their campaigns are now achieving significant reach. This could be the time that the government considers providing support by funding a nationwide campaign about the risks posed by bullying. It’s something that we as a society need to eradicate. It’s obviously blighting many lives young and old. The statistics compiled from last year’s campaign ‘Choose Respect’, would justify such a high-profile national campaign. They are compelling showing that after polling 500 pupils and 500 teachers in relation to the 2108 campaign:
It has to be remembered that bullying itself has many different facets. And there remains much research to be conducted: cyberbullying, homophobic bullying and faith-based bullying are just a few examples of the kinds of bullying in existence.
SEN – a particular vulnerability.
Foster carers must be on the alert. Especially if they are looking after children with special educational needs. These children run a far higher risk of being bullied. Ideally, there should an educational plan in place for each child. It should have a section within it dealing specifically with how a school will safeguard a child at risk. Foster carers will then be in a position to monitor the situation that the children they care for are in. One of the most pernicious aspects of bullying is that it can be over a prolonged period before a parent or responsible parent learns it is happening.
1 in 4 children are suffering.
It is a sad fact – and why the subject of bullying is rising quickly up the agenda – that around 1 in 4 children suffers in their real or online lives. One of the leading anti-bullying charities, The Diana Awards posits that 3 in 5 youngsters will have experienced bullying at school. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, nearly a quarter of children now feel unsafe in school. Should we be surprised at this when the victims are being hounded, not just at school, but 24 hours a day via social media. This has just been reported by the Children’s Society. Can we expect children to learn when so many have to deal with a daily round of fear and victimisation? Most of us who are unaware of bullying would simply be expecting schools to be dealing with the problem – on all our behalf. After all, the amount of taxpayers money spent on education runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. So not an unreasonable expectation one might think. All schools, in fact, have a legal obligation to have anti-bullying policies in place. The problem, according to the National Bullying Helpline, is procedural guidelines in schools are often “non-existent”. The problem is the lack of a consistent approach. Schools have a number of sanctions that can be employed. These range from speaking with the perpetrator and their parents through to detentions and ultimately exclusions.
If you suspect that the child you are looking after is being bullied, you can take steps. To begin with, if your child is at a primary or junior school, make an appointment to see the class teacher. You can explain your concerns in a way that is non-confrontational. As a guide, these are some basic questions you can raise:
In the next blog in this series ‘Foster care and how to promote anti-bullying in schools 2, we will provide information on tackling issues of bullying if your child is at secondary school. There is additional information on the subject of bullying at –
Action a parent or foster carer can take if the school doesn’t resolve the problem.
It can be demoralising if the bullying continues after the school has been approached to sort out the problem. The next step to take is to write a formal written complaint to the head of the school. You should then contact the chair of governors of the school writing to them at the school’s address requesting an investigation be conducted forthwith. Their name will be available from the school office. You should enclose copies o0f any correspondence you may have written to the head on the matter. This should have a powerful effect – especially if you send a copy of your complaint to your local councillor. This usually results in the chair of governors meeting with the head and resolving the problem. If the issue still cannot be resolved the next step a parent or foster carer can take is to make a formal complaint to the Local Education Authority (LEA) requesting an investigation and report. The ultimate step that can be taken is to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.
A final thought.
Victims of bullying often see themselves as lonely and pathetic. It is worth remembering that some very famous people have been bullied in their lives and gone on to enjoy huge success. Just a few examples: Justin Timberlake, Megan Fox, Eminem, Christian Bale, Jessica Alba and Robert Pattinson and even Lady Gaga. It can be helpful to explain to a child who is being bullied that they are certainly not alone in having such an experience – of course, whilst taking every step to ensure that any bullying is stopped. Foster carers especially need to be aware that the children that they care for are at risk of bullying. This is because they will be different in a class of children and bullies thrive on exploiting difference. And this is especially the case when a child already feels stigmatised by not living with their birth family.
Rainbow Fostering are now urgently looking for new foster carers in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire.
If you have been thinking about fostering a vulnerable child or young person, we’d like to think you’d give Rainbow a call. After all, we have twenty-one years of experience and have been rated ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by Ofsted. This means you can proceed with confidence in all our support and training structures. It also means you will have plenty of choices. There is an urgent need for people to specialise in fostering sibling groups or teenagers.
Therapeutic fostering as a career offers huge potential. It means providing care for a child with enhanced needs – usually the result of having experienced trauma of one kind or another. You’ll need to be a good team player as in this role you will be part of a team that works closely to support a child back to recovery.
If these opportunities sound tempting, then call now on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311. We won’t bombard you with information – we will take all the time needed to understand fully your motivations to foster. Fostering isn’t for everyone: it is a challenging job. When done well, it can be rewarding beyond words.
We like to keep our carers updated with all that is going on in the fostering world. We have a news section on our website and regularly post informative – sometimes thought-provoking blogs. Please feel free always to contact us with any feedback or suggestions. http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/ Blog recommendation http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/therapeutic-foster-care-6/