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Is Policy Based on Evidence?

[Linnea Kalchos]

Evaluating Bullying Legislation

By Linnea Kalchos, B.Ed.’18

Bullying rates in Canada are amongst the highest of Western countries – a statistic confirmed by the work of tireless researchers who have devoted themselves to understanding the bullying and victimization faced by Canadian children. One of these researchers, my supervisor, Dr. Wendy Craig, is the co-scientific director of PREVNet (Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network). Through the collaborative efforts of PREVNet’s researchers and partners, we now have a national authority on research and resources for bullying prevention.

Bullying is negatively affecting the health of thousands of Canadian children. It leads to poorer physical and mental health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, headaches and stomach aches. The bullied are also at greater risk for suicide and are more likely to use drugs, alcohol and engage in criminal activity. Canada has taken steps to protect its children through legislation, most of which was passed in 2012, mandating safe schools and deterring bullying and cyberbullying behaviours. Most recently, policies implemented refer to promoting safe schools, with a focus on defining and reporting bullying and emphasizing the importance of a safe, caring and supportive school climate.

Although these are steps in the right direction, there has been no national review to ensure that these policies are consistent with the best practices recommended by research.

As a recipient of a Queen’s Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowship (USSRF), I had an opportunity to examine the relationship between the rates of bullying and victimization and how evidence-based the legislation is in Canada and across the United States. As a future teacher, I recognize the significance of promoting a safe learning environment and the importance of teaching children how to have healthy relationships. I hope to be able to bring this knowledge into my own classroom one day, and ensure that my students are learning in a positive, safe space. The legislation and policies that guide the ways in which bullying is addressed in Canada will have an impact on the ways educators address individual cases in their schools, and ultimately make a difference in intervening so that children do not have to experience the negative outcomes associated with bullying behaviours in adolescence and childhood. I predicted that the more that the policy is based on research, the lower the rates of bullying and victimization will be the region. If this is the case, then both researchers and policy makers will have a more complete understanding of the relationship between legislation and bullying outcomes.

One of the most rewarding opportunities of this project saw me lead a team of research students in obtaining copies of provincial, territorial and state legislation pertaining to bullying, safe schools and school climate. Each document was read thoroughly, and then coded based on a checklist that reflects the best practices in safe school policy in the literature. The checklist assessed several different policy components, such as bullying definitions, staff training, division of responsibility for implementation, responses to bullying, and policy review. I also ran analyses based on the coding data of the legislation and on data from Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey, which was sponsored by the Public Health Agency of Canada for the World Health Organization. Students in grades six to ten across Canada participated in the survey and answered questions regarding age, ethnicity and grade level, as well as questions regarding their experiences with bullying and victimization over the last 30 days, their experiences with cyberbullying and cyber victimization, and their opinions of their school in order to get a measure of school climate.

The outcomes of this study should allow provinces and territories to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their policies so that positive changes can be made. This is an exciting opportunity for Canada to reflect on both the successes and next steps needed in our bullying legislation so that students can feel safe in their school communities and that staff can continue to help students build positive relationships. Bullying and victimization are significant problems that children face daily and as a future teacher, I hope to gain as much experience as I can while assisting research that will change lives. I believe that evidence-based policies will benefit Canadian students. It is only through a collaborative effort between researchers like those in PREVNet’s network and policy makers that we can create a future without bullying in Canadian schools.

Each year, the Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowship (USSRF) provides an opportunity for students at Queen’s to engage in discovery-based learning and develop their research and presentation skills. The program is targeted to students in the social sciences, humanities and education.

(e)AFFECT Issue 10 Fall/Winter 2016

Learn more about: PREVNet