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Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit

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August 6, 2012
Washington, DC

Thank you for that warm welcome – but more importantly for your commitment to giving our young people the safety and support they need to grow and thrive.

Two years ago we came together for the first-ever National Bullying Summit with 150 state, local, civic and corporate leaders. And we began to map out a comprehensive national plan to end bullying.

There had been efforts in the past to confront bullying. At the Department of Health and Human Services, our Health Resources and Services Administration launched an educational campaign that reached young people everywhere from elementary and middle schools to Boys and Girls Clubs and 4-H clubs. The Department of Justice conducted outreach through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and fought to protect bullied students’ civil rights in the courtroom.

The Department of Education worked with state departments of education and local school boards to collect better data and develop anti-bullying policies. And we saw private campaigns and non-profit institutions step up like PACER’s National Center for Bullying Prevention.

All of these efforts were making an impact and reaching young people in need. Yet, we also recognized that despite such a wide array of programs and campaigns, bullying still wasn’t being treated as a national priority.

So we convened the first Summit two years ago where we said, for the first time, that bullying was a serious national challenge requiring a true national response.

Around the same time, our nation faced a number of tragic incidents involving children and teenagers who, having been bullied, felt like they had nowhere to turn and took their own lives. It seized the nation’s attention. And for many, it was a wakeup call. Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up. It threatens the health and well-being of our young people. It’s destructive to our communities and devastating to our future.

Spurred by these incidents and a new national focus, cities and states began taking aggressive action against bullying. School districts adopted broad anti-bullying resolutions that called on staff to intervene when they witness harassment or teasing. State legislatures passed new anti-bullying laws and strengthened existing ones. In 2009 and 2010 alone, 36 state anti-bullying laws were enacted or amended.

Outside of government, organizations from the National Education Association and Parent Teacher Association to the Cartoon Network launched their own anti-bullying campaigns. And brave young people began stepping up to be leaders, protecting one another in their own communities. I know some of you are here today and I want to thank you for your leadership.

All of this momentum is encouraging. But we also know that our work has only just begun.

Today, one out of five high school students reports being bullied on school property. And as youth spend more of their time on Facebook, email, and text messages, there are more opportunities to bully each other, while hiding it from teachers and parents.

In too many communities bullying is still the norm. More adults may be stepping in to stop it, and more young leaders have stepped up. These actions are important and they can make powerful and lasting impressions. But if we’re going to prevent bullying on a national scale, we must take our efforts deeper still, and work systematically to prevent bullying as early as possible.   

We know that the federal government cannot solve these problems on its own. But there are some steps it can take to give you the tools -- especially at this pivotal moment -- to translate today’s unprecedented awareness into action. Let me tell you about some of the ways we’re working to do exactly that.

First, we recognize that there is still a lot more to learn about bullying.

For many years, our understanding was limited to anecdotal evidence, and a scattering of state and local surveys. But we have had very few rigorous scientific studies about the specific factors that put youth at risk for bullying or the specific steps that can protect them.

But that is changing. Our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have incorporated bullying to its Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the agency’s biennial survey of schools across the country about student health behavior. With new questions in the survey, we have a national picture of how many young people experience bullying and its connection to other risk factors. As the survey is repeated every two years we will be able to measure our progress. 

Now as we go forward, we also want to make sure we’re speaking the same language as all of our partners. So we’re working closely with the Department of Education to develop a standard definition of bullying, to get a more accurate and consistent picture of bullying’s prevalence and connection to other health risks.  We hope to finalize this effort before the end of the year.

Second, we’re giving people the support to become bullying prevention leaders in their own communities.

Over the years, experts from our Health Resources and Services Administration have gone out to communities where they have trained school staff, coaches, parents and youth about the best practices of bullying prevention.

But we were limited in how many people we could reach directly. We knew that bullying was taking place in nearly every community in America, and we didn’t have the resources to go everywhere.

We do however have the tools to empower community leaders with the best information and expertise to train and lead their own colleagues and neighbors. That’s the idea behind the new Training Module we’re making available for the first time today on Stopbullying.gov. 

Over and over again we’ve heard from local leaders who say ‘I want to establish a bullying prevention plan for my community, but I don’t know where to begin.’ Now, they have a great place to begin. They can download this research-based training right from the website, adapt it to their own needs and deliver it at their own trainings and community events. The training module is also paired with a Community Action Toolkit that leaders can use to develop and roll out more comprehensive prevention strategies tailored to their own communities’ needs.

This is just the latest terrific resource available on stopbullying.gov, which has become the country’s one-stop shop for bullying prevention tools. Its resource database includes more than 100 proven tool-kits, fact sheets, articles and program directories.

And it’s not just for policy makers like us: Stopbullying.gov is a great starting point for young adults, teens, parents, and anyone who works with young people.  There is a revamped section for kids. And for young people who might be thinking about hurting themselves, the website shows them where they can get immediate help. 

Now, we’ve also been focusing on the media. For many reporters and producers, bullying is a new topic. Some are still informed by outdated notions that bullying may be harmless or unavoidable. Others may see the tragedy of the single child victimized by a bully, but fail to recognize its far deeper impact on public health and public safety.     

So our Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has launched a task force of both journalists and experts in bullying prevention. They’re working together to create background material, guidelines and other resources for journalists, bloggers, producers, and writers who cover bullying.  Our goal is to help them provide accurate information so that Americans can understand what is truly going on among our youth, and learn how they can make a difference.

I want to close by thanking all of you again for your leadership and your partnership. This may be only our 3rd Annual Summit, but I know many of you have been working on these issues for many years.  Bullying is not new.  These are behaviors that have been around a long time. They are attitudes that have been handed down from one generation to the next.               

What we need now are not just stronger programs and more persuasive campaigns – although they are critical. We also need to continue changing a culture that too often says, “It’s not my responsibility.”               

We must do more. Building safe neighborhoods and schools where young people can thrive is a job for all of us -- not just government or schools or parents. We are all responsible. And no one can afford to be a bystander.         

As a mother, I have seen the awful power of bullying on young people. And I know that any parent would move heaven and earth to defend her child from the pain and fear a bully might cause. Together, we can build a nation, where every single child, no matter who she is or where he lives, gets that same protection and support.

Thank you.