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.

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