Children who are bullied are three times more likely to develop depressive symptoms and have higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, illness and suicide. Children who are supported, nurtured and empowered have increased resilience, which helps them live fulfilled lives. Many children grow up in a nurturing environment at home. Their views are encouraged and listened to and they feel special, unique and loved. The majority of children find their place and move through school without much hassle from their peers. However, 25 per cent of children and young people experience some form of bullying. This is any kind of abusive behaviour focused on an individual, including violence and other psychological interference.
The Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study found that the majority of teaching staff—67 per cent—felt that other teachers at their school needed more training to enhance their skills to deal with bullying. The Solving the Jigsaw Program was developed by Emergency Accommodation and Support Enterprise [EASE], a domestic violence support service based in Bendigo, Victoria. It was launched in 1997 into two local schools as an early intervention program aiming to address violence and bullying at school by changing a culture of violence and creating a culture of wellbeing. The course is now available in 54 Victorian primary and secondary schools and, since 2002, 25,000 children have been empowered by the program. New South Wales has only one fully trained Solving the Jigsaw facilitator, Byron Shire resident Jan Daly. Ms Daly is fully accredited and is implementing the program into a local school, Brunswick Heads Public School.
The program is integrated into school welfare support and policy and enhances the Department of Education’s current initiatives of changing bystander awareness and behaviour. Solving the Jigsaw operates under the assumption that bullying, violence, abuse and other traumatic experiences increase the risk of poor life outcomes. A way to address this is to increase the resilience of our young people and provide them with the time and the tools to reflect and grow. The program builds relationships, trust and understanding through a combination of weekly catch-ups that encourage connection, belonging and intimacy within the group. Structured activities provide opportunities for students to learn about key concepts, values, tools and challenges, and to explore their beliefs and practise problem solving. Although these activities are planned, the program is flexible and can respond to any important issues that might arise.
Solving the Jigsaw deals with bullying and violence by talking openly about violence and about its types, effects and where it occurs. The program explores concepts of the misuse of power, deliberate harming and the use of power to control and belittle. It teaches children, young people and teachers strategies for dealing with violence and bullying. Over 92 per cent of teachers indicated that the program had a significant impact on participating children. The Solving the Jigsaw Program has won many important awards, including the Excellence Award in School Based Programs, the National Association for Loss and Grief Award and the National Child Abuse Award for Community Development, Capacity Building and Strengthening. A documentary showing a group of children and their journey through their school-based Solving the Jigsaw program titled Kids Business won the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Services media award. It also received a highly recommended commendation in the Human Rights Awards in 2009.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher recently stated in a response to a question by the Hon. Mick Veitch on the effects of cyber bullying on the lives of children that this Parliament and our community “must endeavour to educate our children about these matters in their early years” and “think more broadly in terms of protecting and educating our young people” about the potential damage that can be caused by bullying. Professor Ken Rigby from the Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of South Australia stated:
… only on rare occasions is education about bullying incorporated into teacher training in a systematic manner.
He advised that the need to provide teacher training was a longstanding issue that had been raised in the National Safe Schools Framework. It identified key elements of successful approaches to address bullying, including ensuring that:
… appropriate pre-service and in-service training is conducted for all staff about bullying, violence, harassment and protection issues.
The New South Wales Legislative Council 2009 Bullying of Children and Young People report also recognised that the release of teachers to obtain the training is a resourcing issue. We are all aware of the harm that can be done to children and young people when they are bullied. Instead of managing the emotions of children after they have experienced bullying, we need to provide the training and personal empowerment so that they are able to understand themselves and others better. Providing young people with a platform that they can use to improve their life skills must be a priority. Supporting the implementation of the Solving the Jigsaw Program in New South Wales would be a positive step in changing the culture of violence to wellbeing.