On 15 October 2018, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced via Media Release the release of the Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce Report (Report) and 29 recommendations to address cyberbullying as a whole in Queensland. The Report, titled "Adjust our Settings: A community approach to address cyberbullying among children and young people in Queensland" makes recommendations focused on addressing cyberbullying through a community-wide approach, with actions focused on parents and carers, the community, schools and government. At the centre of the Report and recommendations are children and young people.
Definition of Cyberbullying
According to the Report, there is no single nationally-accepted definition of cyberbullying.
Some see cyberbullying as a new phenomenon, while most experts see cyberbullying as a type of bullying that uses digital technologies. Key elements of a definition of bullying, including cyberbullying, is that it is behaviour that is intended to harm, is usually repeated, and often involves the misuse of power.
So, in order to make it easier to provide recommendations, the Report adopts the same definition used by the "Bullying. No Way!’ website, namely that bullying and cyberbullying involve:
- an ongoing misuse of power in relationships
- usually repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that is intended to cause physical and/or psychological harm
- an individual or a group misusing their power over one or more people
- acts carried out in person or by the use of digital or other technologies
- obvious (overt) or hidden (covert) actions.
The Report acknowledges that bullying of any form or for any reason can have long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders. It also states however that single incidents and conflict or fights between equals, whether in person or online, are not defined as bullying.
There have been many reports in the media of late outlining new forms of cyberbullying. These include online text messages proposing suicide and harassment using social media (e.g. as occurred recently at a Bega school). The recent announcement by the New South Wales Department of Education of a smartphone review in schools was to a large extent driven by the need to tackle online bullying, as outlined in our previous article.
The Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce Terms of Review
The Anti-Bullying Taskforce (Taskforce) was established on 19 February 2018 after the death in Queensland of Dolly Everett as a result of cyberbullying. The role of the Taskforce was to develop an anti‑cyberbullying framework for Queensland covering cyberbullying affecting young people in Queensland (Framework) and advise the Government about the development of programs under the Framework. The Taskforce engaged with children, parents, schools, communities and experts to draw on best practice research and identify community-driven strategies and initiatives that address the complex causes of bullying and cyberbullying.
In particular, one of the outcomes for the review was developing and implementing a Framework that will bring together children, parents, schools, communities and experts to counter cyberbullying of children and young people up to the age of 25. The Taskforce was to foster creative community-driven solutions that use contemporary ways of engaging, including social media platforms and multimodal communication. Taskforce members were to harness grassroots ideas and best practice research to develop and oversee strategies and initiatives that address the complex causes of cyberbullying in the community. Workplace cyberbullying was excluded from consideration.
Taskforce members were to be key in developing and drawing on community relationships to ensure that everyone can be part of addressing these challenges. Empowering and engaging young people in particular was to be a significant part of delivering effective solutions.
Outcomes were to include:
- developing the Framework and presenting recommendations for community and government action to reduce the incidence of cyberbullying
- advising the Government on the development of a program of activities under the Framework
- advising the Government on resources, best practices and other strategies to prevent and address cyberbullying behaviour in order to provide appropriate training and intervention
- consulting with the Queensland community to gain the insights of those affected by cyberbullying and harness grassroots ideas on ways to tackle the issue
- educating and engaging Queenslanders to create a community that practises positive attitudes and behaviours and promotes a culture of non-violence and respectful relationships
- acting as a liaison point between the community and government to encourage ownership of initiatives.
The Taskforce held more than 50 consultations across the state and received 364 written submissions with the Taskforce Chair Madonna King saying the most important recommendations are about ongoing input from children and parents. In particular, the Premier commented that "our young people are entitled to form connections and communicate online and via social media and it is the responsibility of Government, business and the community to foster online environments where bullying is not tolerated. There is no ‘one thing’ we can do to stop cyberbullying. We have to do everything, and we have to do it together.”
Release of Report and Recommendations
The Report was released by the Taskforce on 15 October 2018. In total, 29 recommendations were made with nine recommendations in Chapter 5 related solely to schools and their management of cyberbullying.
The recommendations that related to schools were:
- Recommendation 11: That all Queensland schools should deliver evidence-based whole school programs that promote social and emotional competencies among students, include evaluation of the program's impact and include professional development for teachers.
- Recommendation 12: That the Queensland Government, in collaboration with an independent body such as the proposed national education evidence institute, commissions a rigorous evaluation of relevant anti-bullying programs and resources in order to assist school leaders and school communities to reduce the prevalence of cyberbullying.
- Recommendation 13: That schools continue to have autonomy to determine student access to mobile phones and other personal devices at school, and ensure their policies on the use of mobile phones and other personal devices are developed in consultation with the whole school community, regularly reviewed in light of rapidly changing technology and give consideration to technology-free spaces and times.
- Recommendation 14: That pre-service teachers receive education in strategies to prevent and intervene in bullying and cyberbullying.
- Recommendation 15: That clear guidance is provided for all schools on the scope of their responsibilities in relation to cyberbullying, including the circumstances when the principal is and is not responsible.
- Recommendation 16: That contemporary, best practice exemplar policy documents are provided by the Department of Education about reducing and responding to cyberbullying, including a complaints management process.
- Recommendation 17: That all schools should have clear, transparent, readily accessible and easily understood policies and procedures to address cyberbullying, that include a flowchart clearly outlining the school response to incidents and reports of cyberbullying and provide indicative timeframes for school responses, provide contact details of relevant school staff, identify when parents and carers will be contacted by the school, state the possible consequences for the student who has engaged in bullying behaviour and identify the support available for the student who has been bullied and the student who has engaged in bullying behaviour.
- Recommendation 18: That the Queensland Government continue and appropriately resource the Bullying Response Team of Senior Guidance Officers in the Department of Education to provide expert advice and assistance to schools, parents, carers and students when they want advice about addressing and resolving reported incidents of cyberbullying, and commission an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of current processes to address reported incidents of cyberbullying across all school sectors. The evaluation should consider the merits of establishing an independent dispute resolution body for complex matters which are unable to be resolved at the school or system level. The approach used by the Victorian Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution in relation to school disputes about bullying and cyberbullying should form part of the evaluation.
- Recommendation 19: That schools that provide boarding facilities, and other organisations that provide accommodation for school students, have policies and procedures to ensure the safety and welfare of boarders. Those requirements should include staff training and competencies to prevent and respond to cyberbullying, based on best practice standards.
The Premier and the Queensland Government have also committed $3.5 million to the following initiatives to help in actioning the Report's recommendations:
- $2 million over two years to develop and roll out awareness and education campaigns to assist the community, parents and carers and young people to understand what cyberbullying is, the harm it can cause and how we need to address it.
- $1 million for schools including $450,000 in funding to the Dolly’s Dream Foundation in partnership with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation to implement the eSmart Schools Program in Queensland schools. Dolly’s Dream Foundation will match this funding with a further $300,000.
- $500,000 to provide grants to young people and to youth and community organisations that want to undertake their own initiatives to address cyberbullying.
What Schools Can Do Now
The clear message from the Report for all schools is that cyberbullying is a whole of community issue involving students, parents, schools and the wider school community in combating the issues where they occur. Schools can begin preparing for the anticipated changes that will be required to be made to bullying policies by reviewing:
- professional development for teachers to ensure cyberbullying is covered
- mobile phone and BYOD policies to ensure they best reflect the position of their own school community
- complaints handling processes, to ensure there is a clear process to handle bullying and cyberbullying complaints
- policies and procedures in relation to the safety and welfare of students, especially boarders.
As the Queensland government announced in its Media Release, “This is not the end of the process. It’s only the beginning.”