Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When Healthy Relationships Fail

The World Health Organization (WHO) has decreed that bullying is a “global social health problem” that has reached epidemic proportions. A 2009 WHO report rated Canada 26th out of 35 developed nations surveyed. As a nation, millions of our tax dollars has been spent on programs, education and resources, with no decrease in the number of children who suffer at the hands of their peers. In fact, our numbers in recent years have actually risen with five youth suicides in Ontario alone since the commencement of school this past September.

"The consequences for bullying are far less severe than the consequences of being bullied, and that's why so many participate in bullying rather than risk being the target."

This is a statement made by a 15 year old girl who suffered long-term aggression, both emotional and physical for four years from a group of young males. The operative word is “consequences”.

On November 30, 2011 two new pieces of legislation were introduced at Queens Park. Our Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, introduced “Bill 13 - Accepting Schools Act, 2011”, and Elizabeth Witmer, the former education critic for the PC Party introduced “Bill 14 - Anti-Bullying Act, 2011”

The purpose of any legislation is to provide a guideline to keep society in order. Law defines the limit of public conduct and determines what is allowed and not allowed in any person’s actions that impact another person. Laws are made to maintain public order, and control.

Some highlights of Bill 13 are that it promotes early intervention, supports for victims and ongoing training. Bill 14 highlights are a clear definition for bullying, early intervention, development of detailed school board prevention plans, provision of services for the victim and the aggressor, ongoing professional development, reporting of incidents and prompt investigations.

What both Bills fail to include is a clear and concise definition for “duty of care.”
We hand our children over to complete strangers every single day trusting that these adults will keep them safe. There is a presumed duty of care that these adults act towards others and the public with watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence. If the actions of our administrators do not meet this standard of care, those actions are considered to be negligent. The only reason a child suffers long-term aggression at the hands of their peers is because administrators have failed to take appropriate action. Our Education act states that it is the duty of the Principal to keep children safe. There is absolutely no excuse of any kind for a child to reach a point that they actually consider taking their own lives.

My child considered doing this for six months. For those same six months I sent him into a battle zone called school trusting that my principal would keep him safe. For three years he did not.

The perfect legislation would be a combination of both Bill 13 and 14. I encourage you to educate yourselves on what is taking place for the benefit of our most vulnerable. Both of these Bills can be viewed on the Ontario Legislature site. I will be presenting at committee hearings at Queens Park on both of these Bills prior to the third reading of Bill 13.

It all begins with parents enforcing healthy relationships. Teaching our children compassion, tolerance and empathy towards others is paramount. It ends with accountability on the part of adults and how they deal with a situation when our children fall off track.

My son and I are the co-founders of the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition. We work hard at raising awareness on the issue of bullying. This issue is not one for families like mine alone. It is a community issue. After all.....it takes a village to raise a child. Please make this your issue as well.