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Putting knowledge to work to prevent bullying

When it comes to preventing bullying, knowledge is power. Thanks to coordinated, targeted efforts by the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence (PREVNet) network, more of that valuable knowledge is being put where it can do the most good: in the hands of those who work with children and youth.

PREVNet, funded through the Networks of Centres of Excellence Knowledge Mobilization initiative, was launched in 2005. Since then, network Co-Scientific Directors Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig have seen a major increase in awareness of the significance of the problem and of the fact that it is a public health issue. “When we started this work,” Dr. Craig says, “people just thought of it as a problem that kids grew out of. Now they recognize that there are long-term, mental and physical health consequences.”

Along with better awareness of bullying as a public health problem has come acknowledgement that ongoing research is the best way to confront it. Solid data about the different types of bullying, gender breakdowns and circumstances leads to policies and intervention strategies based on scientific evidence. Governments, schools and community organizations have increasingly come on board. For example, many provinces now have a bullying prevention policy in place.

“The added value of PREVNet has been to have a cohesive, orchestrated approach in education and awareness, and in prevention and intervention and policy,” says Dr. Pepler. “What existed before was lots of good will across the country, lots of interest in addressing the issue, but there were silos in different systems, whether it was mental health, or education, or public health. What PREVNet has enabled is that the same information can go out to all of these different agencies and government so we can address it in a systematic way.”

PREVNet’s strategy is simple: collect data and conduct studies to build understanding of the problem, develop effective solutions based on that evidence, and get the knowledge into the hands of professionals who work with children and youth. “If we can provide them with the tools, resources, knowledge and awareness to address bullying, then they can make a difference,” Dr. Craig explains.

Many of those resources are available on the network’s Web site, targeted to a range of age groups, and covering topics that include identifying bullying behaviour, training, assessment and prevention strategies.

So how have things changed? The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC), a survey conducted every four years in more than 40 countries, indicates only a slight drop in overall rates of bullying in the past decade. Physical bullying has declined, but verbal and social bullying have increasd, while electronic bullying has remained relatively stable. Gender breakdowns have also changed, with girls taking part in more physical bullying and boys less.

Dr. Craig says the HBSC findings could in fact mean efforts to promote healthy relationships are working, since the onset of electronic bullying should theoretically have led to an overall increase. She feels that more significant changes are likely to show up during the next few years and be captured in data from the next HBSC in 2015.

“It takes time and money and resources,” she concludes. “We have been working at this for many years. The challenge is always bridging the gap between research, and policy and practice. We are at the stage where we have the evidence-based education and materials, we have been working to put them into policies and tools to help practice, and now we have to ensure the practice is getting done on the ground. That’s what’s going to create the social and cultural shift focused on preventing violence and promoting healthy relationships among our children and youth.”

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