Sunday, December 16, 2012

What are we really doing?

“Bullying can negatively affect a victims brain says Ottawa researcher.” Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa. She is also a professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University. Her research was published in the journal Elsevier in 2011. We all know that being at the receiving end of stalking, harassment and assault can have immediate negative responses by anyone. Dr. Vaillancourt’s research suggests prolonged torment and abuse could severely affect a child’s development. Could it be for this reason that our young are becoming depressed with suicidal thoughts and clinical diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? It all has to do with the hormone we all produce called cortisol. When we are severely stressed out, like children who are bullied, we overproduce this hormone. The end result is that this has a negative structural affect on our brains. This is of great concern in children as they develop emotionally and socially. On December 11, 2012, Global Edmonton reported that bullying is linked to lower performance in 4th grade reading. The findings of this report can be found in The PIRLS Canada in Context report which states that students bullied the most tend to have lower performances. “Students who are struggling more in school are probably less comfortable, and are probably more subject to those kinds of unpleasant circumstances,” ...... “And equally, being subject to those would further depress achievement.” Does this make struggling students an “evocative victim”? I have a child whose torment lasted for three school years - grades 8, 9 and 10. He was academically successful, and then his learning became extremely depressed. To corroborate Dr. Vaillancourt’s research, as a result of his three years of torment he was diagnosed with PTSD, and became suicidal. He started college at the age of 20 and did not handle the stress of that very well in his first year. Very interesting findings, but is anyone listening? There is an over abundance of expert reports that provide us with all kinds of information. Our school boards are just as privy to this information as you or I are, yet children are still taking their lives. So I need to ask....when bullying gets out of hand at the school level, what degree of responsibility is placed on the school system? In the USA, “Alabama and Georgia are urging the federal court to rule that school districts not be held financially liable for harassment in a student’s disability if school officials took appropriate steps to stop it.” Who determines what appropriate steps are? If it is reported to the school, and the aggression is taking place at the school level, and it doesn’t stop regardless of the steps taken while our children are in their care, then some onus must be placed on the system. It can’t abscond itself of 100% responsibility when we place our children in the duty of their care. That question now leads me to the Town of Hanna in the Province of Alberta and their recently implemented bully by-law. RCMP approached the town as they were frustrated with how prevalent bullying was in their community. They also expressed the frustrations of parents, and were concerned about situations escalating to the point of criminal offenses. While some may believe this kind of by-law to be draconian in nature, the main reason for the request came as a result of the gray areas at the school level when dealing with bullying. Nothing else is working at the community, provincial and federal levels.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

National Bullying Prevention Strategy

The World Health Organization (WHO) has decreed bullying a “global social health problem”. It has reached epidemic proportions. A 2009 WHO report rated Canada 26th out of 35 developed nations surveyed. As a nation, we have spent millions of dollars with no decrease in the reported statistics. As everyone is aware, bullying has direct criminal, mental, educational and physical health implications. As far as "bullying" is concerned, it's just a catch phrase for assault, harassment and stalking, and it is time our youth are provided with the same basic human rights that adults benefit from. Parents expect a great deal from their Education system and one basic need is to know that their child is safe at school. Student safety = student achievement. When parents send their children to school, temporary custody of their child is handed over. Unfortunately, school boards have complete autonomy and are accountable to no one because at the end of the day they are self governing corporations administering their own set of politics. There is a percentage of bullying situations that take way too long to get resolved and I have met countless parents, nation wide, that get stone-walled at every level when trying to keep their children safe at school. There seems to be a disconnect not only at local levels, but across the country. Mr. Morin's recent motion on Parliament Hill is a good one. At this point in time, a Federal Prevention Strategy is necessary as we are still losing our youth to suicide as a result of adult failure. It would certainly support The National Crime Prevention Centre looking to fund initiatives that deal with school based bullying? "Priority Issue The NCPC is currently seeking to fund projects involving the implementation of specified model and promising programs designed to address the following priority issues: § Violence among youth ages 12 to 17 years; § Aboriginal youth delinquency in urban centres; and § School-based bullying." I would appreciate your thoughts on Mr. Morin's motion.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The start of school is just around the corner. Some parents and students are already becoming anxious. Here is what parents really need to know about keeping their children safe at school. We are tired of reading articles in our local papers directed to parents on how to raise their children and prevent them from becoming targets of bullies. We recognize that not all parents are educated, and some are lacking in parenting skills. But, for the most part we would like to think that parents do assist their children in building self-esteem and social skills. Becoming victimized doesn't necessarily have anything to do with a victim's level of self esteem or lack thereof. It's often the intent of the bully to break it! This kind of message sets up kids to be blamed for being victimized and the real issue not being addressed is the aggressor's lack of self esteem, issues and supports. We are further extremely dismayed with a statement made by Stu Auty, President of the Canadian Safe School Network. "Go up the food chain……You'll find over time the situation will be looked after.” While we recognize that there are most likely certain entities that Mr. Auty must protect, he has just disrespected every child, and their family, who have gone through months or years of a bullying situation without any resolve. This is a reality for many families in Ontario. So we ask why we never see journalistic pieces such as below. How parents can REALLY take on bullying If your child is being bullied we recommend the following: We recognize that this is an emotionally charged process. We ask that you use respectful language in your letters and conversations with school representatives. Calm, level headed communication achieves results. Keep a detailed log of who you spoke to including date, time, name(s), conversation highlights. This is imperative. Use the following guide to contact personnel in order as outlined. If you reach the last item on this list with no resolution - contact us. There are no skipping steps. Successful resolution requires working with established protocols. 1. Teacher 2. Vice Principal/Principal - Ask for a safety plan to be created for your child. 3. Superintendent of the school 4. Safe School Superintendent (only some school boards) 5. School Safety Officer - If need be get a restraining order against aggressor. 6. Elected trustee 7. Elected MPPs 8. If you child’s bullying is due to one of the following reasons: gender, race, orientation, religion, disability (differently abled) contact your Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and request an application. Our schools are bound by The Human Rights Convention and as such must be accountable to that office. 9. If you have a complaint regarding a teacher or administrator of your school/board please file a complaint with the Ontario Teachers College. 10. Ombudsman’s Office - Boards of Education do not form part of the Ombudsman’s portfolio. However, we have recently learned from his office that for statistical purposes they will accept a school complaint and keep record without conducting an investigation. This information is then published in the O’s Annual Report. Before the expansion of the Ombudsman’s power can take place, the number of recorded complaints needs to increase. 11. Share your story with the media. 12. Legal advice - sue in Small Claims Action suit. What children need to learn growing up is that every person is unique and they need to understand and accept differences in people, both physical and emotional. This education needs to carry on in our schools, not just at home. This is all about changing the cultures in our schools and it begins with our Principals, the very individuals our Education Act sites are responsible for the safety of all students. Until then, supporting and protecting our victims is crucial and mandatory. We should not have to go through the “food chain.” Unfortunately, this is not always the case. And while we understand a number of bullying situations are handled well, there is a reason anti-bullying coalitions in this province are being organized. We don’t need to read articles on how to raise our children. We need to learn how to advocate on behalf of them. This is where a parent needs to be educated.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My name is Karen Sebben, and together with my son, we are the co-founders of the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition. I will get straight to the point. Aggression between our students takes place because adults allow it to. Whether it is a child’s parent, teacher or school administrator, the job of keeping youth safe is ours. On that first day of kindergarden, we drop them off at school and entrust the emotional, academic, and physical well-being of our children to complete strangers. We do this because giving our children an education falls within the natural order of things, and therefore we just trust. We also do this because the law says we must educate our youth. Raising a child does not come with an instruction manual. We use our best judgment and experiences from the past to do the best that we can. I taught my boys empathy, compassion, respect and manners, but when I was faced with a situation where the parents of other children did not do the same, I found myself in a dilemma. When my youngest was in grade 8, we found ourselves in a situation where the adults in control were non-reactive or receptive to a situation that my son found himself at the receiving end of. He was bullied by the same five peers for three school years. The reason this took place is because policy wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, policy was interpreted to protect our administrators, and the consequences chosen did not change the negative behaviour of his aggressors. My son who was fourteen at the time could not understand why adults did not feel he was worth protecting. He is 21 years old today and if you ask him what stands out the most during those three years he will tell you he doesn’t care about the five boys that pursued him so aggressively. He will tell you that he doesn’t trust adults. The very people I taught him to go to help for if I was not around. My son turned to cutting his skin and self-medication because adults didn’t do their job. There is no accountability built into our educational system. How can there be when tax -paying parents are up against the big business of unions. My son was not identified as an LGBT youth, yet he was suicidal. What explicit protections will be built into this legislation to protect a child like him? Would a child like him have the same benefits as a LGBT youth through an alliance? Is anyone suggesting that he was not at great risk for being bullied because he wasn’t LGBT? Yet he suffered terribly for three years, was diagnosed with post traumatic stress which ultimately lead to social development and mental health issues, the same issues that a child who identifies as being LGBT might have. Would he have received the same legal counsel that Mr. Elliott is providing this clearly defined group of youth? How dare anyone suggest that one child’s existence is more important than that of another child based on category? Do any of you on this committee actually know what it feels like to exist on a daily basis wondering if your child will take his life while you are at work? What’s even worse, as a parent you kept sending him into a battle zone without protection of any kind. If you did, only then would you really realize what any kind of anti-bullying legislation should look like. I have watched, read and listened to what has transpired in the House over the past few months, and I am ashamed to be an Ontarian. Unless you have been in our shoes, or the shoes of a parent who has lost a child to suicide because of being bullied, I respectfully submit you have no idea. My colleague, Corina Morrison, presented earlier today. We are like minded, on the same page, and I do not want to repeat here what Mrs. Morrison had to say. One thing must be understood. Families like mine in the Province of Ontario are finding each other. This is taking place because the system has failed us miserably. We are growing in numbers, our voices are growing stronger and we will no longer tolerate being marginalized tax payers. We are hard working, tax-paying citizens who have the absolute right to be heard and not brushed off by our Government. Just to recap, anti-bullying legislation must include supports for all involved, including readily available resources for those whom we entrust our children to, data collection to see what actually works and to ensure fiscal responsibility of spending our hard earned tax dollars, detailed prevention and safety plans, community education, a clear definition for bullying including duty of care, non-categorizing of our youth, because they are all at risk, and finally, supports for all involved, and accountability to those whom the system fails.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Anti-Bullying Legislation


It is vital to the success of our education system and the well being of generations of children and young adults to reduce the incidence and impact of bullying. Without informed decision-making and effective legislation, every Ontario student remains at risk. The following are key points for effective change:

Safeguards need to be written into the Education Act that would prevent students from being harmed by all acts of bullying including, but not limited to, homophobic acts, and, especially, those acts carried out by adults in positions of authority within the system. These must apply to all members of school communities
Students, families and all members of the public or school community must have easy and equal access to information that is provided to school boards as a means to assist in dealing with bullying incidents, including instructional material, data, definitions and policies.
Improved data collection, tracking and reporting, and follow-up when students are withdrawn from schools or boards is needed to truly understand the impact of bullying and to make effective changes.
Damage caused by bullying has a wide reach and affects all parties, including victim(s), perpetrator(s) and their families. Early intervention is critical and school boards should be held both morally and financially responsible for providing necessary counseling, especially in cases where issues are allowed to remain unresolved and damage reaches critical levels.
One overarching and comprehensive policy for all of Ontario’s school boards would do away with inconsistencies, confusion and too little accountability. Boards would be held to compliance and students would be kept as safe as possible, as failure to comply would bring consequences for those not fulfilling their job requirements.
Autonomous school boards are not serving their students well enough as is evidenced by the increasing number of bullying related lawsuits against school boards. There is a clear need for consistent and effective third party oversight, such as the previously proposed extended jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.
The duty to report bullying incidents must apply even if the bully is an employee. There must be some form of legislation in place to protect employees who come forward in order to protect victims of bullying at the hands of teachers or other staff. ‘Whistleblower’ legislation would serve this purpose and allow for integrity and responsibility within teachers unions.
Wording in the Education Act and all school board policies must be decisive and reflect a genuine desire for accountability within Ontario’s school system. At present, phrasing most frequently allows all levels to opt out of action and accountability until student safety is dangerously compromised.

In conclusion, although we would like to be optimistic about the possibility of positive change with the tabling of Bills 13 and 14, instead we are concerned that Ontario families are about to begin a lengthy period of time with no real improvement in the area of bullying prevention and no possibility for such. There are two bills tabled, two bills that have some good ideas but two bills that don’t go far enough. We beseech all parties to work together and take time for careful consideration over the drafting of a final bill because, once passed, that bill will silence bullying issues for some time. Once a bill is passed, the government of the day can claim that there is no further need to look at bullying issues. They can claim they’ve already addressed the issues and that time is needed to see how effective the new legislation is…and that will likely amount to years. The students of Ontario cannot afford to have any more ineffective legislation passed. They cannot afford any further ‘bandaid’ approaches or ‘wait and see’ attitudes. Comprehensive and effective legislated changes to the Education Act are needed to ensure that this province is doing its’ very best to keep students safe in its’ schools. Bullying is abusive in nature and is a result of intolerance, inequity and misuses of power. In order to put an end to bullying and bullycide, we must implement an anti-oppressive framework. If we are to use legislation to help build this framework, the language must be concise and specific regarding bullying and peer abuse. To integrate the problem of bullying with other school-based issues would, in effect, put the issue of bullying on the back burner yet again. Our hope is to have a bill strictly devoted to anti-bullying for all students and to keep other issues of equality separate so that the bill’s purpose is not distorted, making it about political reputations or narrowing the bullying focus to issues of sexual orientation, instead of the safety and learning success of every single one of the children and youth in this province.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When Healthy Relationships Fail

The World Health Organization (WHO) has decreed that bullying is a “global social health problem” that has reached epidemic proportions. A 2009 WHO report rated Canada 26th out of 35 developed nations surveyed. As a nation, millions of our tax dollars has been spent on programs, education and resources, with no decrease in the number of children who suffer at the hands of their peers. In fact, our numbers in recent years have actually risen with five youth suicides in Ontario alone since the commencement of school this past September.

"The consequences for bullying are far less severe than the consequences of being bullied, and that's why so many participate in bullying rather than risk being the target."

This is a statement made by a 15 year old girl who suffered long-term aggression, both emotional and physical for four years from a group of young males. The operative word is “consequences”.

On November 30, 2011 two new pieces of legislation were introduced at Queens Park. Our Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, introduced “Bill 13 - Accepting Schools Act, 2011”, and Elizabeth Witmer, the former education critic for the PC Party introduced “Bill 14 - Anti-Bullying Act, 2011”

The purpose of any legislation is to provide a guideline to keep society in order. Law defines the limit of public conduct and determines what is allowed and not allowed in any person’s actions that impact another person. Laws are made to maintain public order, and control.

Some highlights of Bill 13 are that it promotes early intervention, supports for victims and ongoing training. Bill 14 highlights are a clear definition for bullying, early intervention, development of detailed school board prevention plans, provision of services for the victim and the aggressor, ongoing professional development, reporting of incidents and prompt investigations.

What both Bills fail to include is a clear and concise definition for “duty of care.”
We hand our children over to complete strangers every single day trusting that these adults will keep them safe. There is a presumed duty of care that these adults act towards others and the public with watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence. If the actions of our administrators do not meet this standard of care, those actions are considered to be negligent. The only reason a child suffers long-term aggression at the hands of their peers is because administrators have failed to take appropriate action. Our Education act states that it is the duty of the Principal to keep children safe. There is absolutely no excuse of any kind for a child to reach a point that they actually consider taking their own lives.

My child considered doing this for six months. For those same six months I sent him into a battle zone called school trusting that my principal would keep him safe. For three years he did not.

The perfect legislation would be a combination of both Bill 13 and 14. I encourage you to educate yourselves on what is taking place for the benefit of our most vulnerable. Both of these Bills can be viewed on the Ontario Legislature site. I will be presenting at committee hearings at Queens Park on both of these Bills prior to the third reading of Bill 13.

It all begins with parents enforcing healthy relationships. Teaching our children compassion, tolerance and empathy towards others is paramount. It ends with accountability on the part of adults and how they deal with a situation when our children fall off track.

My son and I are the co-founders of the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition. We work hard at raising awareness on the issue of bullying. This issue is not one for families like mine alone. It is a community issue. After takes a village to raise a child. Please make this your issue as well.