Every parent or guardian wants to trust that their child is safe at school. And still, dangers exist. Luckily, there is much that can and is being done to address threats to our children's safety. On this page, we will provide information and resources aimed at informing parents and guardians of potential risk and empowering them to take action.
When one individual uses their power to control or intentionally harm another child, this behavior is referred to as bullying. Bullying can be physical or verbal in nature, relational or social such as exclusion or damaging one's reputation. It can also occur online, often via social media (cyberbullying).
Teasing or picking on another student with no intention to cause harm to the other individual is not bullying. Teasing is actually considered a social exchange or interaction that can be friendly in nature. Teasing can occur when a friend is trying to help and provide constructive criticism, form a bond, or change a behavior. Picking on another student with no intention of causing harm to another individual is also not considered bullying. As children grow and develop their social and emotional skills, they are challenged by conflictual situations where they have the opportunity to express their own views in healthy developmentally appropriate way.
What is targeted violence?
Targeted Violence involves planned violence that is focused on a specific person or persons. Targeted violence can be threatening, stalking or predatory in nature. Attacks can be psychological/emotional, physical or both, (this can include things such as incidents after school shootings, bomb threats or dating violence) and can result in psychological/emotional trauma, physical injury or even death.
What can be done to protect my child while at School?
In order to protect students and school personnel from targeted violence, there are many steps that school administrators can take. These include policies and procedures that result in changes in the school climate and culture. Identifying and intervening when students display concerning behaviors is also important and recently schools have begun using "Behavioral Threat Assessment Teams" to do just that. Implementing "hard changes" to the school structure - such as bullet proof glass, safe rooms, metal detectors, and or cameras positioned around the inside and outside of the school - can all mitigate risk.
What is a Behavioral Threat Assessment Team?
A trained team of individuals connected to a school who are able to assess the level of concern and suggest interventions for students. It is believed that incorporating this type of model into a school setting could potentially prevent violent actions, and also provide support for at-risk youth. This model differs from others in it's preventive rather than reactive nature, and also by promoting supportive, rather than disciplinary, intervention techniques.
Being bullied can affect your child's mental health, physical health (pdf), or emotional health and well-being. It can also impact their interest and performance in school, sports, or other social activities. Bullying during the teen years may look different and have different results. Bullyingstatistics.org is a good resource for this age group.
How do I talk with my child about school safety?
Children are hearing a lot about school safety these days. They might participate in "active shooter" drills in school. They may hear about tragic events in the media. They may witness or experience bullying in their school. They may have fears about their safety and the safety of their teachers and peers. The best thing that a parent or guardian can do to help their children manage these feelings is to talk about them. Such conversations can be difficult. Luckily, there are many resources available to guide your conversation. Here are just a few
SAMHSA tips for talking with and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers.
How do I report concerns regarding bullying or targeted violence?
The Illinois State Board of Education provides resources on reporting bullying at their website: https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Bullying-Prevention.aspx
Many parents may not know that the Authority and responsibility to administer discipline and respond to acts of bullying rests with the local board of education, through the office of the superintendent of schools and building administration. If your concerns are still not resolved, you may consider contacting the local board of education. If, after exhausting all inquiries at the district level, your concerns remain, you may consider contacting the office of the regional superintendent of schools that holds supervisory authority over the schools in your county. A listing of regional offices/superintendents can be found on the Directory of Regional Offices of Education and Intermediate Service Centers Document.
Finally, the United States Department of Education, through the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), directs school districts to look at each bullying incident not only as a violation of bullying policy, but as a possible action of discriminatory harassment. If discriminatory harassment has occurred, the school district must take steps to end the harassment, regardless of any discipline imposed for bullying. A complaint of discrimination can be filed by anyone who believes that a school that receives Federal financial assistance has discriminated against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age.
The following is a link to the OCR complaint form:
https://ocrcas.ed.gov/welcome-to-the-ocr-complaint-assessment-system. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination, but may complain on behalf of another person or group. Before filling out the complaint form, it might be useful to read the information in the following link to understand how the Office of Civil Rights handles bullying complaints at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html. You may also contact OCR at 1-800-421-3481.
IL AG Internet Safety: http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/cyberbullying/index.html
The E-Info Hotline provides assistance to kids, teens, parents and teachers coping with cyberbullying and Internet safety issues. Please call 1-888-414-7678 or email email@example.com
When do I communicate with my child's school?
The best time to communicate with your child's school is as soon as you identify that your child might be being bullied. The Illinois State Board of Education website indicates that all schools are required to have policies concerning bullying prevention filed with ISBE by September 30, 2019. STOMP Out Bullying states that parents need to know what the bullying policies are in their child's schools, to document all information about when their child is being bullied including things like date, times, locations, what occurred, who was involved. The parent should make an appointment to meet with the principal face to face. During that meeting the parent needs to share all of the obtained information and ask for help. Parentinfo.org provides these 10 tips for reporting bullying.
When should I seek mental health services for my child?
Children develop across a developmental continuum that is defined by age and experience. Which means all children don't meet development milestones at the exact same age, but rather across the age continuum. It is always best to provide professional support and intervention as early after the onset of an identified concern as possible. There are many resources available to help you understand where your child is on the developmental continuum. Here are a few links based on age:
School Age 6-12 years
Middle School and Early High School Years
Late High School Years and Beyond
When a parent/guardian notices the following changes, they might consider seeking professional intervention:
- A change in development where a child returns to a previous level of functioning.
- A reduction in social interactions, resulting in an inability to build or maintain or develop relationships with peers or teachers.
- A change in mood resulting in feelings of sadness or unhappiness that result in loss of interest in previously enjoyed actives.
- A change in behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances. Your child might have a more intense reaction to something that normally they never reacted to.
- A change in sleep pattern
- The development of physical symptoms such as a headache or stomach ache that is not related to a physical health concern.
The Child Mind Institute has many resources for families. Their website can be accessed at: https://childmind.org/audience/for-families/
The Child Mind Institute also has a resource called the "Symptom Checker" where an adult who has a relationship with a child can answer a few questions and the answers are analyzed to provide information about possible concerns or diagnosis. https://childmind.org/symptomchecker/
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a series of information pages on Children's Mental Disorders.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has a Facts for Families page that links to resources and information for children, teenagers, and their families. These resources are now available in English, Chinese and Spanish.
Where do I go for help?
There are a few resources for locating mental health services in Illinois. The links below will take you to the Illinois Department of Human Services, DHS Office Locator, and the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services, DCFS Service Provider Identification and Exploration Resources (SPIDER).