1. Introduction

Everyone involved in looking after children shares responsibility for countering bullying and for creating a culture which positively encourages acceptable behaviour and reduces or prevents the likelihood of bullying.

Remember bullying can have a detrimental effect on a child's wellbeing and can lead to poor self-esteem, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Foster carers must take bullying seriously.

The Children's Guide will also contain information and advice on dealing with bullying.

As a foster carer you should look out for signs of bullying and should take steps to prevent it.

Your Safer Caring Plan should address bullying and cover:

  • Putting in place clear rules within the house that bullying is not acceptable and what actions will be taken if you suspect bullying or are told of bullying happening;
  • Making it clear to children what is acceptable behaviour;
  • Providing opportunities for children to think about the issue of bullying e.g. writing stories or poems or drawing pictures about bullying;
  • Having discussions about bullying and why it matters;
  • Being good role models as foster carers.

Many Looked After Children experience bullying at school, in the local area and sometimes from other children in the foster home.

2. Types of Bullying

Bullying can include:

  • Emotional - being unfriendly, excluding, tormenting (e.g. hiding possessions, threatening gestures);
  • Physical - pushing, kicking, hitting, punching or any use of violence;
  • Racist - racial taunts, graffiti, gestures;
  • Sexual - unwanted physical contact or sexually abusive comments and harassment;
  • Homophobic or remarks about gender identity - because of, or focusing on the issue of sexuality;
  • Verbal - name-calling, sarcasm, spreading rumours, teasing;
  • Cyberbullying - e.g. using mobile phones or social networking sites to intimidate or bully others.

See also: School and Education Procedure and Internet, Photographs and Mobile Phones Procedure.

Some signs of bullying can be:

  • Not wanting to go to school;
  • Unexplained bruises;
  • Torn clothing;
  • Need for extra money;
  • Continually losing belongings;
  • Problems sleeping;
  • Sudden loss of appetite;
  • Problems at nursery/school/ college/placement;
  • Withdrawn behaviour or temper tantrums;
  • Unusually hungry at the end of the school day (lunch money being taken);
  • Rushing to the bathroom after school (fear of going to the school toilets);
  • Self harming;
  • Child appears worried by messages on phone.

The bullying may be because:

  • The child feels and/or appears different. School life can highlight difference, they may arrive at school by taxi, they may not be able to take part in after school clubs, and they may be withdrawn from some lessons to attend meetings;
  • The child may not be achieving as well as others in their class;
  • The child may have had lots of moves of carer or school;
  • The child may not have a friendship group;
  • The child may not want others to know that they are looked after;
  • The child may feel isolated and think they have no-one to talk to at school;
  • Difficult and distressing life experiences may have left the child with poor self-esteem and a lack of coping mechanisms.

Bullying within the home environment

If you have any concerns that incidents of bullying have happened between children within the foster home or that a child may be a victim of bullying or is being a bully, you must discuss this with your Supervising Social Worker; who should advise you on what actions are necessary to reduce or prevent it. They will decide whether to inform the child's social worker.

When bullying occurs within the foster home it may be appropriate to call a meeting, preferably with the child or children, to discuss ways to prevent or reduce the bullying.

The outcomes of the meeting may include the following:

  • The bully (bullies) may be asked to apologise;
  • In serious cases, some form of sanction/consequences will be considered;
  • If possible, the children should be encouraged to make friends;
  • After the incident has been dealt with, you should monitor the situation to make sure that bullying does not happen again.

3. What to do if you think your foster child is bullying or being bullied

  • Give time and space daily to the child/young person to check how things are going for them and encourage them to talk about their day, seeking to identify whether things are better, still persisting or worse for them;
  • Continue to act on the advice from the child's social worker and other professionals on ways to help build the child's self-esteem;
  • Help the child think about what to say to help explain why they are living with foster carers;
  • Encourage friendships and invite school friends home. There is strength in numbers. Bullies may target a child who is alone;
  • Build coping skills. Problem - solve difficult situations and practice what you might do;
  • Do not reject a child who is a bully; reject the behaviour. Explain how the behaviour makes other children unhappy and help them develop other ways to feel better about themselves and to express how they feel;
  • Give the child praise each time they help you or are kind to someone;
  • Speak to the child's social worker and make an arrangement for both of you to see the child's class teacher or year head;
  • Make sure that you and the other people are good role models.

Children can be reluctant to report bullying for fear of reprisal or because they think they will not be listened to. You must make a point of talking to children about bullying in order to help them report it.

When a child says they do not like something which another child/young person, or adult is doing/saying to them, they must be listened to and taken seriously. Even if you do not view the action as serious, the child may.

4. Serious or Persistent Bullying

Serious or persistent bullying must be notified immediately to your Supervising Social Worker and the Fostering Service, who will notify the child's social worker within one working day. Consideration will be given to whether a Child Protection Referral should be made, or indeed whether a criminal offence has been committed. This is a decision that will be made by the social workers and all the information you provide will be helpful. See also: School and Education and Significant Events and Notifications – When I need to tell other people about things.

5. Recording

You must record all incidents of bullying in the daily records of the child who is the alleged victim and the child who is the alleged bully.

The child's placement plan should then  be reviewed by the workers around the child/young person with a view to incorporating strategies to reduce or prevent future incidents. Specialist support may be considered from outside of the placement to the child or young person  to help them come to terms with what they have experienced and increase their self-esteem.

See also: Recording and Information Sharing Procedure.