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Task force recommends four-step approach to change culture of youth bullying in Kentucky

Gov. Steve Beshear today called on lawmakers and Kentucky’s future leaders to adopt new recommendations for schools, public agencies and communities to stop youth bullying.

Alongside members of the Kentucky Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force, Beshear gave highlights of the group’s 29-page report, which gives four main recommendations to reduce youth bullying and to help foster safer, harassment-free school environments:

‣ Adopt one statewide, formal definition of bullying.

‣ Adopt evidence-based standards within all school districts to promote a positive climate and culture.

‣ Support and invest in behavioral health counselors at the local school level as a preventive measure.

‣ Establish and fund a sustainable state-level agency or office that coordinates and supports community-driven efforts to promote bullying prevention and community programs.

The task force, a 26-member panel appointed Beshear, has been meeting for the past year, hearing from safety experts and discussing potential strategies to address the problem of youth bullying. Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes, who co-chaired the panel with former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education Terry Holliday, said she is pleased that the task force was able to recommend a layer of prevention strategies.

“We understand that while there is no ‘magic solution’ to ending youth bullying, part of the solution is simply raising awareness,” she said. “Our panel heard many times that adults had no idea about certain bullying incidences until they reached a crisis stage. We need community leaders to keep speaking up about bullying prevention so that it is easier for others – especially young people – to talk about it.”

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Holliday and Haynes wrote to Beshear last year and urged him to create the task force. Membership on the task force included legislators and school, youth, safety and community officials. The task force also included a middle-school student who experienced bullying when she was younger. Eleven-year-old Morgan Guess, along with her mother, participated on the bullying prevention panel.

“The last year has shown me that there are citizens all across Kentucky who are committed to changing the culture of bullying and given me hope for Kentucky’s future,” said Guess, of Paducah. “This is an important start, but we have more to do. I am committed to doing my part. I am counting on your commitment as well. All Kentucky students are.”

Haynes said the task force learned that the best response to bullying is for communities to act before it occurs.

“Rather than implement measures that merely react to bullying, we have to focus on prevention efforts,” she said. “We need to establish safe and supportive school environments that empower youth to seek success.”

And, Haynes added, the report also emphasizes that bullying is not just a school problem.

“Bullying is not a problem to be addressed solely by school administrators, or even state social workers,” she said. “None of us can be bystanders in this effort. To really thrive, our youth need the right tools and influences to learn to react to disappointment and to have healthy relationships with others. That is going to take a commitment from us all.”

The panel established that bullying is a form of violence and can cause severe physical, social and emotional health problems. The group adapted a four-step approach suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address public health issues.

A recent example of collaboration between KDE and CHFS is the School-Based Behavioral Screening Initiative, launched in early 2014. The goal of this initiative is to help middle and high school personnel recognize when a student may be showing signs of a behavioral health need. Students may be briefly screened with a validated tool, and based on the identified need, referred for services, supports or further assessment, when appropriate.

School districts that have implemented this initiative have reported the ability to better plan ahead to help students, to better identify when a student’s behavior might be a symptom of a greater problem, and to meet the needs of their students more responsively.

From Office of the Governor

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