Bullying is sometimes hard to define, but in many cases, you know it when you see it. And mission organizations who work with children should be on guard. Bullying not only presents moral and spiritual issues, but can have ruinous consequences for the victim, including increased risk of suicide, mental health consequences, and academic issues. In the public school context, best practices around responding to and preventing bullying are well established, if not always followed, and can translate to missions. This post highlights ten best practices from Stop Bullying Now! Best Practices in Bullying Prevention and Intervention, and adapts them to the missions context.1
1. Focus on the social environment of the mission.
Best practices in reducing bullying focus on changing the climate of the organization and the social norms with regard to bullying. Consider whether bullying by adults to other adults is common or accepted, thus creating a poor role model. Also, make sure staff are trained to understand that bullying is not “normal” childhood behavior and is destructive. This issue may have cross-cultural components.
2. Assess bullying in your mission.
One of the best ways to know how to respond to bullying is to better understand any problem that exists at your organization. Consider conducting an assessment of how bullying is seen in your organization. Survey children about the current climate, including types of bullying that are common, or where bullying most often occurs. Gathering information can help the organization better understand how to react in terms of policy development and on-the-ground response.
3. Garner staff and parent support for bullying prevention.
In order for any policy surrounding prevention of bullying to be truly effective, organizational buy-in is key, including by parents. Make sure people understand that bullying has detrimental effects for both the bully and the victim, and is a red flag for the psychological health of both.
4. Form a group, or designate a staff member, to coordinate the mission’s bullying prevention activities.
Best practice is to ensure bullying prevention efforts are coordinated by a stakeholder. For a mission, this might be the individual currently in charge of child protection. If your assessment indicates bullying is a real issue, you may want a more concerted effort, forming a work group or team specifically focused on responding to the issue.
5. Train your staff in bullying prevention.
Ensure staff understand how to identify and appropriately respond to bullying. Training on bullying prevention can be integrated as part of training on child protection in general. Many resources exist to help the organization develop an anti-bullying training program.
6. Establish and enforce organizational policies related to bullying.
Consider how bullying prevention might be integrated with an existing child protection policy that considers the issue of harm to the child. Address bullying as both a “harm” issue and a spiritual issue.
7. Increase adult supervision in hot spots where bullying occurs.
If the mission has identified places where bullying is more likely to occur within its programs, provide more supervision and training around those spots.
8. Intervene consistently and appropriately in bullying situations.
Ensure that staff tasked with implementing bullying prevention efforts know how to effectively respond to bullying when it occurs, including verbal and cyber bullying. Respond appropriately to bullying that is observed. Consider developing an individual intervention plan for involved children, both victim and perpetrator. Such an intervention plan may include safety factors and a contractual agreement not to be near each other or engage in communication. It may include counseling for victim, perpetrator, or both. It may include training for a victim on useful self-advocacy with the bully and with adults.
9. Focus some time and training on bullying prevention with children.
Best practices in schools suggest setting aside classroom time (20-30 minutes each week or every other week) to discuss bullying and its prevention. Missions can mirror this best practice if there are parallel opportunities with children. As with child protection, a “safe environment” will be more likely when people understand what “unsafe” looks like.
10. Continue these efforts over time.
Bullying prevention efforts should be similar to other child protection efforts, with no “end date.” Best practice is for bullying prevention to become part of the organization’s culture, continually improved and updated.
1 Adapted from Stop Bullying Now! Best Practices in Bullying Prevention and Intervention, U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, U.S. Dep’t of Education.
Featured Image: "Unnamed" by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash.
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