Please sign this petition requesting David Cameron to make bullying a criminal offence

Another tragic and senseless loss of a young life due to bullying.

Quote from the petition:

"On November 6th, we lost a beautiful young lady. Morgan Lauren Dodds took her own life. She was a bright intelligent girl with so much to live for. She was talented and pretty and brought joy to so many people she knew. Her smile was infectious. 

But behind her beautiful smile, she was hurting inside. Hurting enough to end her life. She was 15. She has left behind a ripple of devastation and pain amongst family and friends. This was all because of bullies."

Together we have a stronger voice and can make changes happen in our communities. This petition already has over 10,000 signatures. Many of the people have left comments and it is heart breaking to read how widespread bullying has become in schools and how little is done to stop or discipline the perpetrators or support those who are targeted. It's a very sad society we live in when we cannot protect our youth.

Apologies for having to copy and paste this link.  I am having problems making links live on this blog.

Introducing Epic in Schools

EPIC stands for Empowered Parents Inspiring Change.

Why would we want to empower ourselves to inspire change in schools? Because school bullying is now a global epidemic. Every day there are news stories of bullying in schools; sadly too many of these stories are senseless tragedies. Every time I hear of a severely bullied child who has taken their own life because of longterm bullying, my heart breaks a little more. With the right education and support in place in schools, I believe bullying could be dealt with very quickly and both aggressors and targets be supported in moving forward in their lives positively. Longterm bullying should not exist or be enabled in our society.

Bullying impacts children's self esteem, their education and their relationships. In severe cases, some children are so down trodden by their aggressors and feel so unprotected by their peers and educators that they take their own lives in order to escape the social isolation and emotional pain that bullying causes. When they are told they are worthless and nobody likes them enough times, they begin to believe it, especially when bystanders and educators do just that 'stand by'. Never is peer rejection more hard hitting and painful than in the formative and adolescent years.

As parents we often feel helpless to support our children when they experience bullying or have more serious relationship issues in school. Many of us have approached teachers, mentors, school personnel, boards of governors and LEA's in order to bring about change for our children, only to have the bullying minimised or denied and the blame turned around on us being labelled as over-protective and interfering. Our children too are labelled as sensitive and lacking in resilience.

This blog is a place for parents of bullied children to share experiences, information and resources relating to their child's bullying experiences and anti-bullying measures which could help inspire change in schools. In order to inspire change, we first need to validate each other and use our combined voices for the greater good of our own children and the children of others.

It is my intention to do whatever I can to raise awareness of anti-bullying and bring about change in schools and education authorities in my own community and beyond.  As I build more content and resources here, in the near future I hope to convert this blog into a website support forum with the same name.

My best wishes to everyone and I hope whatever bullying nightmare you and your child or children have faced that you can find support and solutions to change your situation and build a brighter future for your family.    Clarity

Our story in a nutshell

I am the mother of a severely bullied teenager.  The problems began when my daughter was 11 and had just started at a private catholic girls' school. The bullying continued there for 18 months and little was done to discipline her aggressor or support my daughter. During that time, my daughter's self esteem gradually eroded as did her trust in her peers and educators. In the latter days she was feeling suicidal and began self harming. Eventually she refused to attend mainstream classes and the school's solution was to put her alone in a room for most of the day with work to get on with. Her self esteem eroded further and I took her out of the school.

Our doctor referred my daughter to CAMHS, she saw a psychiatrist there and was put on fluoxetine but it did not improve her mood and made her feel nauseous. She also went to see a youth counsellor at our local youth counselling service (she would only see this lady if I was present). I acquired support letters from our GP, child psychologist and her youth counsellor all advising that my daughter would do better to be given a place at one particular school where she had several family friends in the same year group, who could support her with her reintegration. Instead they put her in a much larger school where she had no close friendships.

Due to a lack of understanding, support and poor choices made by our local education authority, she went on to experience more bullying at the school they moved her to. Focus for them was on getting an absent child back in school as quickly as possible; whereas focus for me as a parent was helping my child to recover from her ordeal and arrive at a place where she was ready for mainstream classes again. The LEA's strategy won of course and my vulnerable daughter was rushed back to mainstream classes which she then refused to attend. At one point I was threatened with legal proceedings and she was moved to live with her father for months as he was seen as more able to get her into school. It was a devastating time for my daughter and myself. The result of rushing her like this was she became easy pickings for a similar type of aggressive personality to come along and repeat the process - this is exactly what happened!

At no point during my daughter's absence from school did anyone from our local education authority investigate the bullying history at the private school or meet with her to see for themselves how vulnerable she was and what support would help her reintegration. The new school was given very little information about my daughter's history and had very high expectations for her attendance when she joined them at the beginning of year 9.  My daughter's reaction was to shut down and refuse to attend the new school and she was often treated as an obstinate child with behaviour problems rather than one who had psychological injuries from bullying. The pressure ramped up for me too.  At one point the school counsellor at the new school sent a complaint about me to Children's Services. Thankfully the children's officer who came to meet with my daughter and I in our home saw the situation exactly for what it was and closed the report saying there was absolutely no evidence to back up the complaints against me. I was so pleased to hear that recently thanks to a local politician who is very focused on improving our education system, a pilot scheme has started in our small community where vulnerable children going through difficulties of any nature can be educated temporarily out of mainstream school then supported with a reintegration plan. So improvements are happening, it's just sad that something like this was not implemented years ago.

As my daughter has matured and with consistent support from family and out of school friends, she has found strategies to rebuild and hold on to her self esteem. The bullying that restarted in the school the LEA placed her in followed her to sixth form school. Thankfully, this time she had some in school supporters who could see through the bully's lies and manipulations and her plan to continue the bullying didn't get off the ground. This is all it takes, just one or two defenders and the whole dynamic can change (please read my post titled Olweus Bullying Cycle). Her current sixth form school has a zero tolerance policy too which is walked not just talked and this gave me confidence to know if the situation did get out of hand the school would intervene. 

The tide is finally turning for my daughter, but her friendships and social life were severely affected since the beginning of secondary school.  It's been six long and very challenging years. The effects of living so long with this stressful situation and feeling unsupported also had effects on myself and my older daughter.

Six years is far too long but I remind myself everyday that my daughter is still here with us when at one point she was ready to take her own life. When it comes to overt bullying and more covert relational aggression (which is prevalent amongst females) everyone needs educating - the young kids, the middle school kids, the teenagers, the college students, the parents, the community and especially the educators. If adequate information and education on these issues were introduced in schools as early as reception class, then I think we would see bullying statistics change dramatically for the better, most likely grades would rise too. Most importantly I believe we would see a large drop in teen suicide.

Our story in more detail

The bullying began just a couple of weeks into the start of secondary school at a girls' convent. My daughter was resilient in the early days, she showed maturity and courage in reaching out for support from her new educators and me, she set boundaries with her aggressor and began to focus on building other relationships. She asked peers to stand by her and later, when they chose to side with the bully or joined in with the poor treatment, or just stayed quiet and stood by, she told them how hurt that made her feel.

Her aggressor was a skilled manipulator, an attention seeking queen bee who found ways to cut my daughter off from the support of her peers. She used charm, lies, taunts and putdowns to win others away and cast my daughter in an unpopular light. She was careful to carry out her manipulative attacks out of sight of teachers and was clever at ensuring loyalty from witnesses. In spite of my continued complaints of increasing incidents which included physical, emotional, psychological and cyber bullying, defacement of personal property and theft, her educators did very little to protect my daughter, discipline the aggressor or educate the bystanders. 

The deputy head asked for evidence. I got what I could from screen shots, documenting incidents relevant to us and other complaints I had heard about the same girl from other students and parents.  I named others who were involved in incidents so they could be questioned but still very little was done.

The girl's parents refused to believe that their daughter would treat someone this way even though she was in regular trouble for disruptive behaviours, including theft of school property and a serious fist fight with another girl. Outside of school the girl was known for shoplifting. The parents made it clear that if their child were to be disciplined, they wanted concrete evidence of what she was doing. I suggested that next time the girl stepped out of line, that stiffer consequences than just a 'warning' be given, maybe the school could actually try suspending her for stealing or fighting! I requested more in school focus on relational education during mentor lessons and suggested they hold anti-bullying assemblies etc. Small attempts were made but nothing consistent or with enough weight to bring about lasting changes in the bitchy climate of the school.

In 'getting away with it' - the bullying escalated and eventually my daughter had two friends who felt unable to support her for fear of becoming targets themselves. The rest of her peers were pseudo friends who would only acknowledge her when the main aggressor was not around or use their connection with my daughter for the purpose of taking information back to the queen bee. My daughter's confidence and resilience eroded to the point where she wanted to die. She had no trust in her peers, her educators or even me because my efforts had not been successful in helping her. 

Home life became very stressful as my daughter began to withdraw from family life, her sleeping and eating habits were poor and her relationship with her sister became strained. She refused to visit her dad's home wanting only to be in the sanctuary of her bedroom. She withdrew from family friendships and lay awake most nights crying. In the mornings she suffered anxiety and panic attacks. By the time I would get her to the school car park she was shaking and hysterical. In the end I was left with no choice but to remove her from the school with the support of our family GP. Then the pressure of having a child out of school ramped up and I found myself feeling like I was being blamed and bullied by authorities for the position my daughter was in. It became all about attendance and not about helping her to recover to be able to reintegrate into a new school environment.

Even though we have been through hell the last few years, we are the lucky ones - my child did not take her own life though at her darkest point she considered it, for a long time she certainly felt that she wanted to die.  In my final communication with the deputy head, before taking my daughter out of the school, she told me there were contributing factors (I am a single parent, my daughter had had an illness which ran her down, there were relationship issues with her father and of course she was oversensitive). She told me my daughter needed to learn resilience and the bullying was passed off as the 'normal everyday behaviour' of teenage girls. I responded that all families have their challenges, the illness was long since recovered from and that had the school adequately responded at the time of my original complaints, my daughter's resilience and confidence would not have eroded to this low point. The school continued to chase me for payment of a term's fees for withdrawing my child at short notice. I declined to pay.

Recovery has been slow but sure - what has interrupted progress or caused set backs along the way has been a common lack of understanding and some poor decisions by key figures at our local education authority and also some social care professionals.  Some have been supportive but sadly many have not. This gave me the experience of feeling bullied alongside my child and it's been tough to keep from feeling down trodden myself and to keep speaking up in the face of professional jargon and accusations. I reached out too to agencies, Red Balloon and Kidscape who do understand the devastating effects bullying can have on children and their families and also to a great anti-bullying counsellor, to youth counsellors for my daughters and to our GP who has been a rock throughout our journey. At our local parenting support service I was offered a series of relaxation and massage sessions. This combined support helped me to keep my head above water enough to keep supporting my daughter but the people who I really needed to understand and step up to the plate, the local education authority, were sadly out of step and only served to make our challenges more difficult.

Did the bullying continue? Sadly it did, my daughter was not given the support needed to help her recover and reintegrate into her new school. She was anxious, withdrawn, mistrusting of her new peers and very vulnerable. Like a wounded deer in sight of a wolf, she became easy pickings for a similar type of personality. The whole process repeated, same bullying dynamics with a different aggressor and group of kids.

In a cruel twist of fate both my daughter's main aggressors are in the same sixth form school. Aggressor no 1 thankfully is showing no signs of bothering my daughter,  perhaps she has learned some lessons. Aggressor no 2 is trying her hardest to turn a female peer group against my daughter but fortunately a few aren't buying it. Not everyone's heads are turning away and as the girl is starting to show her true colours as she gets more and more angry because her tactics aren't working for her any more. It may sound cruel but I am looking forward to this girl learning some perhaps painful but very important lessons about her own behaviour. What I look forward to the most though is seeing my own daughter blossom and finally be able to enjoy her education and normal healthy friendships.

On our journey, I have come across an abundance of positive information in books and on the web of studies and statistics on bullying and anti-bullying resources that really help. What I craved at times though was the company and support of other parents who were or had been where I was, to validate my experiences and keep me going. That is when I first had the idea that when we were through the thick of it, I wanted to set up EPIC in schools. Here I intend to share details of not only my own family's experiences but also all the positive support and information I have found along the way.

Eventually I hope this blog grows into a support forum, a place to meet, hear and support each other to share ways forward - and most importantly, discover how we as empowered parents can inspire positive change in our children's schools and education systems.

The Olweus Bullying Cycle

In all my research into bullying over recent years, I haven't come across a simpler way to grasp the complex dynamics involved in a bullying situation than the Olweus Bullying Cycle.

I will use my daughter's experience as 'victim' to give an example. I will refer to her as 'dd'. In dd's situation the bullying dynamics in an all girl group were like this:-

 A. Was a tween girl who started bullying using physical, verbal, psychological and emotional tactics to disempower dd. With my complaints to school, the girl got into most trouble for physical bullying and so she decided to influence another girl to carry this aspect out for her.

B. There was one main henchman, she was easily influenced and largely unaware of A's manipulations. She would carry out instructions from A. for example tripping my daughter up as if by accident or knocking into her, other times she would throw objects. Often B. would end up being disciplined for disruptive behaviour while A's behaviour went unnoticed.

C. The longer bullying continues the more supporters the Bully will be able to 'employ', more supporters means that the victim can be disempowered faster and the Bully feels they hold more power in the social group. In dd's case, more supporters came along over time, her confidence eroded slowly.

D. These are the bystanders who get some kind of enjoyment from watching the drama. Girls on the fringes of the 'in clique' are likely to play this role and in time as they become more accepted by those in A, B, and C roles, they may choose to make a move to position C themselves. In dd's case A. used charm and lies to change passive supporters into active ones.

E. The majority of dd's year group fell into this category. The common view held was 'as long as it isn't happening to me, I don't want to get involved'.

F. dd had two passive defenders, one who had moved away from the peer group and one who wanted to find status within the group. dd enjoyed the company of these two girls but was disappointed that they did not have the courage to speak out or stand by her.

G. Unfortunately for dd she had no in school defenders amongst her peers.

Situations like this happen more commonly amongst girls, but with the correct type of intervention by schools, this kind of behaviour could be nipped in the bud and not enabled to get out of control like it did in my daughter's situation, in her case lasting 18 months until I removed her from the school.

Even removing my own daughter would not have made much difference to the dynamics in that peer group, the queen bee simply chose a new target to project her jealousy and anger onto.

My next post will be using another Olweus image called 'Breaking the Cycle' which explains how with the right kind of interventions, positive change in the above negative dynamics are possible.

Breaking the Cycle

The following image shows how with positive intervention, the negative dynamics within a social culture can change to be more supportive of the victim, the bystanders and eventually the bully.

I will predict how my daughter's situation could have turned out had the school been pro-active in dealing with the bullying issues at the time of my early complaints.

A victim of bullying needs to feel understood, supported and validated. A bullied child needs to feel their family are behind them but also their educators. When educators fail to act to support a bullied child, this exacerbates their feelings of low self-worth and isolation, they feel unprotected and lose trust in those who are supposed to be protecting them. By the time a complaint of bullying comes to the attention of educators, it is likely it will have been going on for some time before the victim broke down to friends, family or a teacher.

The first action a school can take with a bullied child is to listen to them and take their concerns seriously, let them know the behaviour shown to them is unacceptable that it will be investigated and necessary action will be taken with children who are bullying.  This sounds so obvious but with all the pressures of a full timetable in a busy school, it is too easy for educators to pass bullying off as 'normal behaviour', 'a random tiff', 'something that will 'blow over' or even to brand the victim as oversensitive, or in need of 'toughening up'.  In my experiences throughout the last few years, I have come to realise that it is the adults in our communities who need to learn about the dynamics of bullying. Until we learn and model compassionate and supportive behaviour, bullying will continue in our schools and workplaces.

Other steps to help the victim - parents of victim and bully will be contacted for meetings if necessary and kept informed.  Teachers connected to the victim, bully and peer group will also be informed to keep a close eye. Depending on the seriousness of the bullying, the bully or the target child can be moved to different class/es if necessary and not paired with each other for activities.

Depending on the circumstances involved, effective boundaries and limits must be set with a Bully so they learn that there are consequences to poor behaviour. It is also important they receive support from the school counsellor to talk through any problems or challenges they are going through which may be causing them to project their anger onto others.

The most important step to ensure a positive school climate is to provide effective and regular relational education to all students. With this, Bystanders will start to realise how much power they actually hold within their peer groups. They hold the greatest numbers within a social peer group and when they decide to pull together, a Bully no longer receives the support necessary to hold control of a group and they themselves learn that their unhealthy behaviour is not effective in getting their needs met.

There are so many excellent, tried and tested anti-bullying programs out there today, there really are no excuses for situations of longterm bullying in any modern school.

An interesting article which relates well to this topic is 'The bully and the bystander'

Survey shows that Britain has one of the highest percentages of unhappy school children

Here is a link to a BBC news article today about a recent worldwide survey which showed Britain to have one of the highest percentages of unhappy school children.