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Looked after children and bullying

Children in care are among the groups who are most vulnerable to bullying.

Challenges that may face looked after children are: 

  • several placements 

  • having to adapt to new situations/people repeatedly 

  • losing contact with friends and often extended members of family 

  • an increased risk of psychiatric disorders (McCann, J., A., Wilson, S and Dunn, C. (1996) Prevalence of psychiatric disorders in young people in the care system) 

​One 16 year old male said: 

They never see it - it happens when you are sitting in the lounge when there are no staff - it's threatening and name calling mostly - quite a few people do it. 

Prevalence of bullying among looked after children 

Children in care report: 

  • twice the level of bullying than other children in primary years (see Safe To Play 2008) - 38% vs 19%
  • four times the level of bullying than other children in secondary years (see Safe To Play 2008) - 36% vs 9% 

Children who are looked after and living away from home are particularly vulnerable (Smith, P.K. (2008) ABA Briefing Bullying Among Looked After Children) and may face discrimination from other children at school and in the community, simply because they are looked after (Safe To Play 2008) 

There is strong evidence to suggest that the corellation between looked after children and bullying increases with age. Data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) survey found that looked after children aged 14 years were 1.56 times more likely to be bullied than those who had not been in care, 1.72 times more likely to be bullied at age 15 and 1.75 times more likely to be bullied at age 16 (National Centre for Social Research, 2010). 

Research has also shown that a high proportion of looked after children report being bullied in school. In 2003, a report by the Social Exclusion Unit stated that 60% of the looked after children who were consulted during the study reported being bullied at school, compared with just 10% of all pupils.

Experiences of bullying among looked after children

According to Rao & Simkiss (2007), looked after children are a vulnerable group who were found to experience many of the same types of bullying as other children including verbal abuse, physical abuse and racism. 

Many looked after children report being in care as the reason for being bullied, stating: 

people can bully you about being in care;

get called horrible names.

(OFSTED, 2009)

When compared to children who have not been in care, research has also shown that looked after children were more likely to have been continuously bullied between the ages of 14-16 years (National Centre for Social Research, 2010).

Looked after children have reported that sometimes being treated differently by teachers can contribute to bullying. 

Teachers sometime label you - like if you have an older sibling who was a trouble-maker or if you have got into one little fight - and these labels stick for life. You start to believe it’s true and then act up to it.

You don’t want to tell the teachers that you’re in care because they will treat you differently and stereotype. If the teachers label you then the other pupils all automatically think the same.

(ABA consultation, 2018). 

For further information and to download the full research reports, please click on the attachments below.