Special bullying report: Children with physical and learning disabilities ‘expect’ to be bullied in school (From The Argus)
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Special bullying report: Brighton and Hove children with physical and learning disabilities ‘expect’ to be bullied in school
Children with disabilities and learning difficulties in the city “expect” to be bullied during their school life.
The claim, though distressing, comes as new bullying statistics reveal disabled children living in the poorest parts of Brighton and Hove – particularly those with autism and learning difficulties – suffer most with bullying.
The figures, gathered by Brighton-based children’s disability charity Amaze, quizzed nearly 750 families of children on Brighton and Hove City Council’s disability register about their experiences bullying.
Children living in the council wards of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, and East Brighton – two of the most deprived areas of Brighton and Hove – accounted for 23.2% of bullied children between them.
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Children in affluent Central Hove, Regency and Brunswick and Adelaide covered just 1.7% between them.
Rachel Travers, CEO of Amaze, said a link between poverty and child disability increased the likelihood of a disabled child living in East Brighton or Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.
She added: “You then have to add in the increased likelihood of a disabled child experiencing bullying.
“From a stats perspective, East Brighton and Moulsecoomb and Bevendean have two important factors in play.
“The first is that there are more children in those areas generally.
According to the latest Census, these two wards account for 14.3% of the city’s young population.
“Then there’s more family housing, more social housing and fewer houses of multiple occupancy.”
The national problem of childhood bullying – and not just involving those with disabilities – was discussed last week by councillors at a bullying scrutiny panel at Hove Town Hall.
Cllr Ruth Buckley, who chaired the panel, described bullying as a “national problem of great concern to the council,” but stressed she felt the authority was “ahead of the game in tackling it locally,” though admitted there was more to do.
Janet Pool, Amaze’s representative at the scrutiny panel, said when it came to young people with disabilities, they and their families expected bullying.
Speaking at the meeting last Wednesday she said: “For them, it’s sort of just a part of life, which is very distressing.
“But it’s a deal almost. You go to secondary school, you’re on the autistic spectrum, you have a physical difference – it’s almost an expectation within families that your child will be targeted more. It can be done in very subtle ways.
“For example when everyone else has scarpered and made sure whatever they’ve done isn’t on the CCTV of their secondary school, that’s when children with additional needs and social communication problems will be the last man standing.
“They’re very often set up because they’re not very subtle.
The figures really speak for themselves.”
The consequences of not being “subtle” can stretch far beyond the idea of a child being the “last one standing,” however.
Paul Goodwin, of Brighton’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), told councillors last week that bullying could contribute to poor mental health and mental health disorders in all children – and not just those with a disability.
He said: “Being bullied is not a mental health condition – it’s a series of events that can lead to increased chance of a mental health problem or disorder developing.
“Initially we’d viewbeing bullied as causing acute emotional distress.
“We all go through a period of acute emotional distress at sometime in our lives, like through bereavement for example, but some of us, if we have a running series of events of stress, can develop a mental health problem from it.
“And if that continues – a mental health disorder can develop.
“That said, it’s hard to equate direct connection.”
When asked by councillors what needed to be done to prevent bullying, Mr Goodwin said: “I think working with the perpetrators is a key thing.
“Working with victims is only half the problem or a third of the problem.
“My experience of working with perpetrators of domestic violence is you need to stop that behaviour to prevent more victims.
“It’s a long-term problem that will take many years but I think working with the perpetrators is key.”
Alison Nuttall, Children and Young People’s Strategic Commissioner at CAMHS, suggested children were reluctant to report bullying in school as they could feel “stigmatised” being seen coming in and out of a “certain room” – such as a school’s counselling room.
She said: “They won’t want to be seen going into that area because it could incorrectly mean there’s something wrong with them. There’s sensitivity around it with children.”
Children’s bullying charity Safety Net, who also sent representatives to the council’s scrutiny panel, has worked with schools and community groups across Brighton and Hove, helping out for the last 17 years.
In a report published for the council, the charity revealed schools were struggling to find the time to fill in forms to provide feedback to the charity on their antibullying measures.
This, according to Den McCartney from Safety Net, meant the charity’s work could be put in jeopardy as the information was used in ongoing funding applications.
She said: “It is not something I feel schools deliberately block.
“We provide the services for free and then say give us information and it involves a lot of chasing and requests in the first place.
“If they do, it helps secure funding for projects such as playground services.
“Short term work such as the Playground Buddies system needs very specific evaluation and it is an extra thing to ask of them.
“They might have moved onto other parts of their strategy by then.
“As part of the report we got really positive quotes on the impact on schools.
“For us because we are currently on the look-out to sustain our work, that sort of feedback is like gold dust.
“If people still want this service for free in order to keep that going, we have to have information from schools.
“It is definitely a challenge for us.”
Despite the apparent doom and gloom, recommendations to improve the levels of bullying in schools could be outlined as early as November – giving both parents and children peace of mind for the new school term.
Councillor Buckley, chair of the bullying scrutiny panel, said the council took the initiative of setting up a scrutiny investigation to see what improvements could be made.
She added: “We will publish our report in November.
“Our own survey data shows that children who need extra help also get more bullying so this is a vital area to be worked on.
“One of the most important lessons parents and schools will ever teach is that such bullying is totally unacceptable. “ A council spokesman added: “The scrutiny panel took advice from a leading expert on the subject, Professor Robin Banerjee, so it’s an issue we take extremely seriously.
“It’s also important to point out that the Government has handed responsibility for tackling bullying to schools directly.
“However as an education authority we remain supportive in terms of offering advice and expertise.“ It’s also the case that some schools, BACA and the former Whitehawk Primary included, in East Brighton, are no longer under council control.”
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