Bullying is defined as 'behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally' (DfE definition). Repeated bullying usually has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour of the victim.
It can be inflicted on a child by another child or an adult. Bullying can take many forms (for instance, cyber-bullying or online bullying via text messages or the internet), and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or can be because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences.
It can take many forms, but the three main types are:
Bullying often starts with apparently trivial events such as teasing and name calling which nevertheless rely on an abuse of power. Such abuses of power, if left unchallenged, can lead to more serious forms of abuse, such as domestic violence and abuse, racial attacks, sexual offences and self-harm or suicide.
Bullying is a type of behaviour which needs to be defined by the impact on the child being bullied rather than the intention by the perpetrator.
The damage inflicted by bullying can often be underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development or, at the extreme, causes depression and self-harm.
Children are often held back from telling anyone about their experience either by threats, a feeling that nothing can change their situation, that they may be partly to blame for the situation or that they should be able to deal with it themselves.
Parents, carers and agencies need to be alert to any changes in behaviour such as refusing to attend school or a particular place or activity, becoming anxious in public places and crowds and becoming withdrawn and isolated. Parents should be provided with information as what they should do if they are worried that their child is being bullied - i.e. where they can obtain advice and support including keeping safe on the internet.
Any child may be bullied, but bullying often occurs if a child has been identified in some ways as vulnerable, different or inclined to spend more time on his or her own. Bullying may be fuelled by prejudice - racial, religious, homophobic and against children with special education needs or disabilities or who are perceived as different in some way. In cases of sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying, schools must always consider whether safeguarding processes need to be followed. This is because of the potential seriousness of violence (including sexual violence) that these forms of bullying is characterised through inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers.
Children, who bully, have often been bullied themselves and suffered considerable disruption in their own lives. The bullying behaviour may occur because the child is unhappy, jealous or lacking in confidence.
Work with children who bully should recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves.
Any change in behaviour which indicates fear or anxiety may be a potential indicator of bullying. Children may also choose to avoid locations and events which they had previously enjoyed - changes in attitude towards schools or organised activities are particularly significant.
Behaviour such as:
should be taken seriously and the behaviour discussed between parents/carers and schools.
All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have in place anti-bullying strategies and procedures on how to refer to Children's Social Care, if safeguarding children concerns are identified. See Referrals Procedure and Assessment Procedure. This includes youth clubs and all other children's organisations as well as all schools.
In order to maintain an effective strategy for dealing with bullying, the traditional ideas about bullying should be challenged, e.g.
Clear messages must be given that bullying is not acceptable and children must be reassured that significant adults involved in their lives are dealing with bullying seriously. Some acts of bullying could be a criminal offence.
A climate of openness should be established in which children are not afraid to address issues and incidents of bullying.
Consideration should always be given to the existence of any underlying issues in relation to race, gender and sexual orientation. This should be addressed and challenged accordingly.
Where a child is thought to be exposed to bullying, action should be taken to assess the child's needs and provide support services.
If the bullying involves a physical assault, as well as seeking medical attention where necessary, consideration should be given to whether there are any child protection issues to consider and whether there should be a referral to the Police where a criminal offence may have been committed.
Where appropriate, parents should be informed and updated on a regular basis. They should also, when applicable, be involved in supporting programmes devised to challenge bullying behaviour.
Creating an anti-bullying climate that is conducive to equality of opportunity, co-operation and mutual respect for differences can be achieved for example by:
Practitioners may often be in the position of having to deal with the perpetrators as well as the victims of bullying. It should be borne in mind that bullying behaviour may in itself be indicative of previous abuse or exposure to violence.
It is important when addressing bullying behaviour by another child to avoid accusations, threats or any responses that will only lead to the child being uncooperative, and silent.
The focus should be on the bullying behaviour rather than the child and where possible the reasons for the behaviour should be explored and dealt with. A clear explanation of the extent of the upset the bullying has caused should be given and encouragement to see the bullied child's points of view.
A restorative approach and the use of restorative enquiry and subsequent mediation between those involved can provide an opportunity to meet the needs of all concerned. The child who has been bullied has the chance to say how he or she has been affected. The opportunity is provided for the child doing the bullying to understand the impact of his or her actions and to make amends.
Both the child engaged in bullying behaviour and those who are the target of bullying should then be closely monitored. The times, places and circumstances in which the risk of bullying is greatest should be ascertained and action taken to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Whatever plan of action is implemented, it must be reviewed with regular intervals to ascertain whether actions have been successful by consideration whether the target of bullying now feels safe and whether the bullying behaviour has now ceased. Consideration should also be given to lessons learned in order to constantly review and improve practice.
Where bullying exists in the context of gang behaviour, there should be an institutional, as well as an individual, response to this.
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