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What to do if Your Foster Child is Being Bullied at School

Our guide is designed to help you identify the signs of bullying and provide you with information on where and how to seek support for your foster child.

June 24 2024 - 4 min read

child being picked on

At ACS, we champion diversity and celebrate each child and young person’s individuality. We believe that children and young people should have the freedom to be themselves and practice their religion without fear of bullying or discrimination. Sadly, bullying is happening every day. So, we have created this guide to help you spot the signs of bullying and know where and how to seek support for your foster child.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is repetitive intimidating behaviour used by an individual or group to assert power over another individual or group. It can be physical, emotional, verbal and non-verbal. Bullying can happen anywhere, but for children and young people, the majority of bullying takes place in school. Unfortunately, new technology means bullying goes beyond the school gates. It can happen online through social media, texts and emails; this is also called cyberbullying.

What Bullying Research Tells Us

The Office for National Statistics discovered that between April 2022 and March 2023, 34.9% of young people aged 10 – 15 experienced some form of in-person bullying, and 19.1% experienced cyberbullying.

Bullying can happen to any child or young person, but some are more at risk of experiencing bullying than their peers. The Anti-Bullying Alliance states that looked-after children experience 'Twice the level of bullying than other children in primary years' and 'Four times the level of bullying than other children in secondary years'. Other at-risk groups include:

  • BAME children.
  • Children of faith.
  • Children with a special educational need or disability.
  • Children who are LGBTQIA+
  • Children from low-income households.

The Office for National Statistics also found that 14.7% of children bullied in person and 18.1% of cyberbullied children don't tell anyone. So, it is crucial that, as a foster parent, you know how to spot the signs that the child in your care is experiencing bullying so you can get the support they need.

Types of Bullying

Bullying can take many forms, and they can all have a significant impact on the well-being of your foster child.

  • Physical - slapping, punching and hair-pulling. It can also include property damage and stealing; for example, a bully may force your foster child to give them their lunch money.
  • Verbal - name-calling, taunting and threats; they may use racist slurs or use homophobic language. They may threaten your foster child with violence.
  • Non-verbal - social exclusion, spreading rumours and negative body language. Bullies may leave your foster child out, roll their eyes when they speak or spread lies that could sabotage your foster child's character.
  • Cyberbullying - threats and abusive messages sent via email, text or messaging apps and social media. It could also include posting embarrassing images of another person online. Bullies may make up fake accounts and make nasty remarks as comments on pictures your foster child has shared.

The NSPCC has further information on the types of bullying the child or young person could experience.

Signs That Your Foster Child is Experiencing Bullying

Bullying can be complex, and although some children may willingly reach out for support, others may not feel comfortable talking about it. So, it's imperative to be curious and know how to spot the signs that your foster child is experiencing bullying. Common signs of bullying include:

  • Reluctance to go to school. They may feign illness or become anxious at the mention of attending school.
  • They may skip lessons or be absent from school altogether.
  • They may return from school with injuries, such as bruises or scratches or look dishevelled in appearance.
  • Their property may be damaged or missing. For example, there could be graffiti on their favourite backpack, or their school blazer is missing.
  • If they have previously performed well at school, but now their grades have dropped dramatically, this could be a sign that they are distracted by bullying behaviour.
  • They can't sleep or are sleeping too much.
  • Their eating habits have changed; they may eat significantly less or more than usual.
  • Their mental health has deteriorated. They may isolate themselves and experience mood swings and low self-esteem.
  • Bullying can make children and young people feel less autonomous. So, they may bully siblings or other children to get back some sense of control.

If your foster child is experiencing cyberbullying, they may display the above signs but also the following:

  • Become secretive about what they are looking at online.
  • Show disinterest in digital devices you once couldn't pry them away from.
  • Show signs of emotional distress when using their phone or computer.
  • They are on edge when they receive a notification or phone call.
Foster Children being bullied

Impact of Bullying on Foster Children

Bullying can impact your foster child now and in the future. Children who experience bullying may struggle to form friendships and suffer from poor mental health. Severe cases of bullying can lead to self-harm and suicide.

Bullying can continue to impact physical and mental health when children reach adulthood. For example, in one study, they found that individuals who experienced bullying in childhood continued to be affected decades after the bullying occurred. They found that adults bullied in childhood were more likely to have poor mental health, job insecurity and health complications.

Religion can become part of a child or young person's identity, so when bullies target them for their faith, it can have a profound impact on how they see themselves and could make them question where they belong. Children and young people bullied for their religious beliefs may avoid talking about their faith, feel ashamed of practising their religion or begin to question their faith. Children who have been victims of race-based bullying and discrimination may lighten their skin or avoid talking about their heritage.

For children and young people in care, experiencing bullying can add to their trauma, impacting recovery, so it is vital to approach the subject of bullying with your foster child.

Support for Foster Children Experiencing Bullying

Early intervention is one of the best ways to reduce the impact bullying has on the lives of children and young people. Even if you haven't spotted any signs that your foster child is experiencing bullying, it is essential to approach the topic so they know they can talk to you if and when they need to in the future.

At ACS, our foster care training will help you build the foundation to create a trusting relationship with your foster child. One that will help them open up to you about things they may be experiencing, such as bullying.

Start a conversation with your foster child about bullying.

  • Talk to your foster child and check in with them every day after school. By allocating time to talk to your foster child about their day and making it routine, they know they can come to you for advice if needed. You will also be able to spot any changes in their demeanour, which could highlight that something is wrong.
  • If you experienced bullying in childhood, you could tell your foster child about your experiences. By sharing, you are letting your foster child know that you understand their struggles; this could encourage them to talk about their experiences.
  • If your foster child does tell you they are experiencing bullying or tell you about incidents that sound like bullying, support them and make sure they understand that it isn't their fault. Reassure them, letting them know you support them and will take the appropriate action to stop the bullying.

Get support

  • At ACS, we are here to support foster parents and the children in their care 24/7. Your supervising social worker will be able to help you support your foster child and offer in-depth advice on what to do about the bullying. If it is out of hours, use our 24/7 helpline.
  • Talk to the school and ask them about their anti-bullying procedure and the measures they take to prevent and tackle bullying. Give the school time to take action and ensure they follow up with you.
  • If your foster child is experiencing bullying due to their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, you can also report this to the police as a hate crime.
  • At ACS, we have links to local churches, synagogues, mosques and other community groups that may be able to offer further support to help you deal with the bullying and help support your foster child through it.
  • At ACS, we offer training courses on Bullying and Cyberbullying. These courses will broaden your knowledge and include the signs of bullying, how to prevent bullying and how to support a child or young person who is experiencing bullying.

Below are links to further resources that can help you support your foster child if they are experiencing bullying:

If you are considering becoming a foster parent and want to join a foster agency that celebrates diversity, get in touch!

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