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Is Bullying a Form of Abuse? CWLA's Children's Voice Magazine Examines Issue Including Impact on Foster Children

For more information, contact
Shawn Flaherty
703-554-3609

WASHINGTON, DC - In response to a number of high-profile cases, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), the nation's oldest and largest membership-based child welfare organization, tackles the issue of bullying as a form of abuse in its recent Children's Voice magazine, which has a broad readership that includes child welfare practitioners, leaders and policy makers.

"Bullying is abusive behavior that is often tied to other forms of abuse. Like child abuse, it's a serious issue that can have severe and long-lasting consequences. Bullying highlights the need for 'systems'--such as education, child welfare, juvenile justice--to work together more effectively to help make this abusive behavior unacceptable. That's why we are raising the issue through our publications and in educational forums with our members," said Christine Brown, CEO, CWLA.

The CWLA article addresses why children are bullied, who bullies, how to overcome bullying, and the impact of bullying. The piece, appearing in the recent issue of the award-winning publication, contains advice and perspectives from child welfare experts as well as data and resources.

According to the article, most studies conclude that youth who are different or outside the norm are the most obvious bullying targets. A 2009 Health and Human Services study showed that about 20 percent of teens had been bullied at school in the last year. Middle school appears to be a prime time for bullying, according to the government's Find Youth Info web site. The most likely teen bullying victims are girls, homosexuals, and those with disabilities. Also children who are new are susceptible--including youth in foster care since they switch schools frequently.

An informal survey of former foster youth conducted by FosterClub for the CWLA article provides important insights about the bullying of foster children. Of the 61 responses, half reported being bullied for being in foster care. Other findings from the informal survey are:
  • Several victims said bullying had happened at group homes or foster homes
  • Many thought foster youth made "good targets" for bullying because peers noticed they weren't dressed in brand-name clothes.
  • Many cited negative misperceptions of foster youth--perpetrated by movies or TV--as possible reasons for the bullying.
  • Victims reported feeling sad or depressed, angry, afraid, or a combination of those emotions.
  • A few victims became bullies themselves.
  • Most thought bullying of kids in foster care was common
  • Solutions were varied; some thought a foster child should have the right to share or hide his or her care status, while others thought having more teachers and administrators know would help them keep a lookout for foster children being bullied.
The article also queried experts about the causes and effects of bullying, including Nikki Geiger, a family therapist at Children & Families of Iowa. Geiger noted that many bullies have been bullied themselves at some point. More often than not, bullies have suffered abuse at home, from parents or siblings. "They have no control at home," Geiger explained, so once they get to school, "they seek out that control, and try to get that power."

Bullying has serious, long-term ramifications, often affecting a child's development into adulthood. In addition, bullying can result in depression, anxiety, physical illness, posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and even suicide.

So what can be done? "We focus a lot on not being a bystander," said Jowharah Sanders, who was also interviewed for the article. A survivor of abuse herself, Sanders founded National Voices for Equality, Education, and Enlightenment (NVEEE) to work with youth in their communities to fight bullying. Her message to parents, schools, and communities is that the physical altercations, verbal harassment, and emotional abuse of bullying is incredibly harmful, and should not be seen as just another part of growing up.

In addition to expert advice and insights, the CWLA article contains a variety of resources and examples of effective programs for combating bullying. Below are a few of the resources:
  • CWLA helped develop the Stop Bullying Now! resources for adults and children published by the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration. The website has fact sheets and tips for parents, and webisodes and games for children. www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov
  • NVEEE does community outreach and provides mentoring services, but they're also behind two campaigns: "Peace for a Day," which seeks to create peace in schools, and "Not on My Watch," which encourages bystanders to speak up against bullying. www.nveee.org/
  • The Trevor Project provides crisis management and suicide prevention counseling to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth over the phone and on the web. www.thetrevorproject.org
  • The Cyberbullying Research Center collects and shares publications about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying, and offers a chance to share stories about the problem. www.cyberbullying.us
Children's Voice magazine is available by subscription or as a benefit of CWLA membership. Individual copies are also available for purchase at www.cwla.org/pubs/periodicals.htm.

About CWLA CWLA is a powerful coalition of hundreds of private and public agencies serving vulnerable children and families since 1920. Through its programs, publications, conferences, professional development, and consultation, CWLA speaks with authority and candor about the status and the needs of American children, young people, and families. As the nationally recognized standard-setter for child welfare services, CWLA provides direct support to agencies that serve children and families, improving the quality of the services they provide to more than nine million children every year.




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