A new survey has laid bare the stark reality of bullying in NI school settings and communities. 

The independent poll*, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF), revealed that 56% of children surveyed here say they’ve been bullied a bit (33%), or a lot (23%), in the past six months.

Of those children, 47% said bullying had happened in school, 43% said it took place online, 44% said it took place on the way to or from school while 47% said their bullying experiences happened in their communities.

The survey questioned 1,093 children between the ages of 11 and 16 and highlights how prevalent bullying is, especially today in an environment that poses even bigger challenges for our young people.

Released ahead of Anti-Bullying Week, which is coordinated by the NIABF which is managed by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), and supported by Translink and Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI), the survey aims to support a needs-led approach to anti-bullying work in Northern Ireland.

The campaign, which is in its 15th year and runs from November 16-20, will employ a new theme in 2020; ‘United Against Bullying’, which has been inspired by the cohesiveness of society during the Covid-19 outbreak.

And despite new restrictions put in place to limit the spread of Coronavirus, the week will still be jam-packed with virtual resources, activities, campaigns and more.

It is hoped that in 2020 even more schools, colleges, community groups and others in NI will take part to draw attention to the affliction that impacts many of our young people and the isolation it can create for children and young people.

The Anti-Bullying Poll also revealed that the number of young people here with one good friend or more has dropped since the onset of the global pandemic.

Seventy three per cent of children surveyed said they had more than one good friend before the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 but that figure has since dropped to 62% as Covid-19 makes its grip on socialisation tighter.

With more children online during the pandemic, especially social media sites, 23% said Coronavirus has impacted bullying, with worries about higher rates of online bullying escalating.

One young person surveyed said: “I know we have to socially distance from each other during this pandemic, but some of my friends are going out of their way to avoid being anywhere near me. I find it really rude, and I’m actually quite upset.”

Another surveyed added: “Bullying has now taken a digital form. People who used to get bullied at school are now being bullied at social media sites.”

NIABF and its members are calling on Minister for Education and other departments to work collectively to prioritise data-gathering and to work with NIABF to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on young people’s experiences of bullying and to make the necessary investments in implementing effective solutions.

Speaking about the survey, Deirdre McAliskey, Assistant Director at the National Children’s Bureau, hosts of the NIABF and organisers of Anti-Bullying Week, said:

“Our survey ahead of Anti-Bullying Week gets straight to the heart of the issues facing our young children. We know that bullying still plays a role in our school environments, in our communities and elsewhere and it’s disheartening to learn that Covid-19 has made things worse for these children. No child should ever feel unsafe or worried and by sharing the findings of this survey, we hope more people will take part in our campaign to protect and promote children’s rights and to drive down these harrowing figures.

“Our theme this year is United Against Bullying because now, more than ever, we have experienced the inspirational capacity that society has when it comes together to tackle a common challenge. By channelling our power for good, through shared efforts and collective responsibility, we can reduce bullying together. We want children and young people to parents, carers, teachers and politicians to all play a role in uniting against bullying. This is everyone’s business, not just those directly affected.”

Gillian Cuthbert, Chair, NIABF, added: “United Against Bullying is a very apt theme for this year’s event and despite everything that’s going on around us, we feel it is more important than ever to be consistent with our efforts to erase bullying.

“Our survey has revealed that since the pandemic started, it has had made its mark in more ways than one. In fact, it has diminished friendship groups and made life more isolating for many children. The poll shows that 73% of children had more than one good friend before lockdown, today that sits at 62%.

“It also highlights the importance of friendships and how they contribute to a more secure and happier life for children and that is something that should be encouraged by adults. As adults we have a role to support and nurture the good friendships our children make not only outside of the home but within the family setup.

“There is work to be done and this is what our survey reveals. We need to know more and do more about bullying in Northern Ireland.”

During Anti-Bullying Week in NI, member organisations involved the campaign and sponsors will encourage children and young people to join their classmates in celebrating their differences by embracing an Odd Socks Day to kick off the week on Monday 16 November.

Translink has actively supported Anti-Bullying Week for the last 12 years and will once again support this year’s campaign by delivering key messages around the theme of respect in stations, on buses and on trains, as John Thompson, Translink Health and Safety Manager, explains: “This year’s theme really highlights how everyone of us can take responsibility and make positive changes for a more welcoming, tolerant and inclusive society through being United Against Bullying.

“As part of our Translink SPIRIT, we always putting safety first in everything we do. Our stations and services provide an excellent platform to deliver important anti-bullying messages and ensure people know support is out there if and when they need it.

“We’d like to thank everyone who supports Anti-Bullying Week helping it grow every year and we look forward to continuing to play our part in protecting the safety, health and wellbeing of young people, our employees and the wider public right across Northern Ireland especially at this time when safety is so important.

“Please remember when using Translink services to follow four simple but important steps: wear a face-covering, wash/sanitise your hands frequently, use touch-free ticket options and practice social distancing where possible.”

Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI), which has a long association with NIABF and supported its activities over many years, has come on board this year as one of the sponsors of Anti-Bullying Week. Helen McKenzie, Director, SBNI, discusses:

“SBNI are delighted once again in 2020 to support the NIABF in their quest to raise awareness of bullying and reduce the incidence of it. We’ve joined as official sponsors to help ensure that children and young people know they should enjoy both physical and emotional safety whether at home, at play or in education or training.  We look forward to engaging creatively with children and young people in this year’s theme of ‘United Against Bullying’.”

To download a free Anti-Bullying Week resource pack and find out more about the anti-bullying creative competition check out endbullying.org.uk

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan

Editor

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