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3 Aug 2018 By Hugh Easton

Emerging Risks

14 min

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Here’s what you need to know about identifying it, your legal liability, developing anti-bullying policies, resources for educators, and the most important factor in managing the problem (acting quickly).

One in four students is bullied in Australian schools, according to government findings. Students who are more active digitally are also more vulnerable to being bullied online. Schools must have policies that address cyber bullying to ensure student safety and wellbeing.

The term ‘cyberbullying’ is now workplace and school vernacular. The ugly impact it has can damage young lives, and in the most serious cases it can be a contributing factor to serious self-harm or suicide.


What is cyber bullying?

Chris Spain is CCI’s Senior Liability Claims Officer. He sees a rising number of claims by schools who face legal action due to cyber bullying.

“Cyber bullying may start at school, but it goes beyond the school gates. Commonly it starts through mobile phone use and then spreads.,” he says.

He describes these claims as complex from an insurer’s point of view, because they nearly always involve psychiatric harm and this has other far-reaching consequences for families and schools.

“A situation we commonly see is a breakdown in the relationship between parents and the school. This problem can be compounded if the parents have more than one child enrolled at the school.”

Chris Spain
Chris Spain, CCI

“We have claims that involve intervention orders. How do schools manage this aspect of cyber bullying?”

Anti-bullying legislation, known as Brodie’s Law, was introduced in Victoria in 2011 following the suicide of Brodie Panlock who suffered relentless workplace bullying.

“It’s a law that sets a very high standard and makes bullying a criminal offence, and that is the context in which schools need to see this. It’s a controversial subject because the responsibility of a school may be extended beyond the gates”. 


Resources for educators

There are now comprehensive tools and resources to help educators develop robust policies.

Learning about cyberbullying is now the responsibility of all who are involved in education, and it’s the first step in giving students a safe online learning experience.

For older students, especially teens, there are useful learning modules designed to build skills in responsible online behavior.  The Victorian Government offers multimedia lesson plans and resources for teachers at primary and secondary schools through the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

Other comprehensive resources are offered by all Australian states. 


Great resources will help teachers to empower students

Young & eSafe lesson plans for years 9 and 10 focus on critical thinking, empathy, respect, resilience, and responsibility. The program also teaches students how to recognise cyber bullying material, collect evidence, and how to report it.

“It’s important for schools to think about how they are going to enforce their policies because this is an insidious problem, and it can happen out of sight,” says CCI’s Chris Spain.


Legal Liability

Perhaps the most impressive initiative of the eSafety program is a world-first legislation forcing social media sites to remove offensive content, in certain circumstances. 

“For people under 18, there is now a way to report cyber bullying and we work with the social media companies to have material taken off social media sites if necessary. We’ve had 100 per cent success with it,” says a spokesperson for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

“Unfortunately there is no nationally consistent curriculum or framework for educating students about cyber bullying, not yet anyway…” says the spokesperson.


Cyber safety is on the Government’s national agenda for 2018

A Kids Helpline spokesperson said their organisation had been tracking cyber bullying since the end of 2016, and praised Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk for presenting the issue at the 2018 COAG meeting. 

“She put it on the table that there should be a Special Advisory Council directed to investigate cyber bullying.”

With new statistics around key issues affecting young people, Kids Helpline is in a position to offer tailored programs that are innovative, unique, and specifically designed for primary schools.

“We also have programs such as Optus Digital Thumbprint that educates kids and schools and involves Kids Helpline counsellors, and it’s free. Schools just need to get in touch and we have people who talk directly to classrooms. Having professional counsellors involved means workshops can be tailored to specific year groups,” says the spokesperson.

Lonely Teen on Phone

Educating students is going to take more than teachers alone

Even if there is a foundation of parental initiative, growing awareness to become better protected is a big task. 

The more knowledge is shared, the quicker schools can expect to rely on a standard of conduct whose teaching the federal government enforces, even if that is some distance away.

Schools must get on board and take advantage of the tools designed specifically to help them develop and implement policies.

“Schools can engage certified providers through a grants program, and they will visit to teach about cyberbullying. There are resources on our website for educators to know about all other providers available in their states and territories. We also have a virtual classroom for live presentations, so schools can tune in on smartboards, and we run them for teachers as well as students. Even ‘pre-service’ teachers are using the resources.” Kids Helpline, Australia

Kids Helpline

Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free 24/7, confidential and private counselling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years.  Counselling and support is provided via the phone, web and email from counsellors who are fully qualified professionals.

1800 551 800

The most important factor in helping manage cyber bullying

Targeted early intervention strategies will help to mitigate the risks more than anything else, but schools are not obliged to follow the recommended guidelines from the Department of Education and nor are they required to intervene when an incident occurs. How state governments manage a unified approach to cyberbullying, in school response procedures and education, is a challenge that should be met with swift action if we are to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of school professionals and students are preserved. With that said, most adults are unsure about how to deal with cyberbullying if confronted by it.

Nevertheless, statistics highlighting the prevalence and impact of the problem provide a compelling reason to act.

“The key for schools is to address cyber bullying quickly when they become aware of it,” says CCI’s Chris Spain.

“Be aware of the social media platforms that students are using. Have a dynamic policy and review it consistently. A policy needs to be current, and people need to be aware of it through newsletters, assembly announcements, and school communication channels. The policy needs to keep up and be relevant to the changing landscape of social media, mobile phones and tablets.” Research by the eSafety Commissioner in 2017 found that among a female group studied, sharing of images among young Australian people —typically school-aged peers and within school-aged friendship circles —was one of four main typologies of image-based abuse. It’s a worrying scenario, at a time when social media posts are distributed more widely than ever. 

Students need to know where to find help outside of school. Educators can guide students in finding support and learning more about the topic. 

https://www.esafety.gov.au/esafety-information/get-help


What can schools do to protect themselves from potential legal liability?

Enforcing policies will help protect schools from liability and students from possible harm. Educators play an important role in shaping them, and in outlining procedures for how schools deal with cyber bullying.

The National Safe Schools Framework, among other bodies, offers support for schools but will fail to protect adequately those vulnerable students if policies are not enforced.


CCI suggests that schools should ask the following questions:

  • What procedures do we have in place to confidentially report any bully incidents?
  • Has our anti-bullying planning and policy been developed in collaboration with students and parents?
  • What are our follow-up processes once bullying is reported?


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Hugh Easton

As Regional Manager for the North and East, and Education Segment Lead, Hugh develops solutions that meet client needs. Serving the insurance industry for 30 years, he delivers solutions for complex risk issues, in collaboration with colleagues, partners and clients. Hugh’s prescient insights stem from his experience working in general insurance at home and in the UK market.

See all articles by Hugh

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