Becoming the "problem" A community story from the United Voices Network

Bullying is experienced by young people of all ages and we know that this takes many forms. Respect Me defines bullying as:

Bullying is both behaviour and impact; what someone does and the impact it has on the other person’s capacity to feel in control of themselves. We call this their sense of ‘agency.’ Bullying takes place in the context of relationships. It is behaviour that can make people feel hurt, threatened, frightened, and left out and it can happen face to face and online.

Bullying behaviour can harm people physically or emotionally and, although the actual behaviour might not be repeated, the threat that it might can be sustained over time, typically by actions: looks, messages, confrontations, physical interventions, or the fear of these.

What is the response of responsible adults in these situations? It should be to listen to the young people experiencing the bullying, understanding what they think is happening and why, and then taking steps to resolve the situation. These resolutions will depend on the young people involved, their age and the type of bullying to name but a few.

However, what about when a young person reports being bullied or receiving harm and is told ‘come back if it happens again’ or does not feel they have been taken seriously? The experience continues and continues until finally they break and retaliate. This young person is then immediately reported, the complaint taken seriously and now they are suspended or excluded from school. They are now seen as ‘the problem.’

The United Voices Network at YouthLink Scotland was set up following conversations and work with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Youth Workers. They discussed the lack of support and development for those experiencing racism themselves as well as supporting young people experiencing racism and its effects. A gap was identified with these groups having access to the opportunities and networks at YouthLink Scotland and it was felt that a network led by their needs would begin to fill this gap. The network was established earlier this year and now has about 32 members. It is supported by a Network Support Officer connecting in with them and arranging both drop-in sessions and regular themed meetings.

Members of the United Voices network at YouthLink Scotland have told the story many times over of young black and minority ethnic young people receiving racist abuse at school but their reports not being taken seriously by adults in roles of responsibility. When they continue to experience racism daily every incident is bottled up until it can no longer be contained.

If we rewound the clock to the first report that young person made and if it had been taken seriously would the result be the same? And what is preventing the adults responsible from taking these reports seriously?

There is a huge lack of understanding of the impact of racist abuse can have on children and young people. As education professionals we need to do more to increase our confidence in addressing racist abuse when we see it happening and we need to ensure Black and Minority Ethnic young people are heard when they tell us what has happened to them, so they feel supported and cared for. We also need to be more comfortable with being called out, we all get things wrong sometimes and when someone points out something we have said or done, we have a responsibility to learn from that and do better next time.

Black and minority ethnic young people in schools lack support from adults who understand what they are experiencing and rely on the support of youth workers and other community organisations in these cases. Organisations such as Passion4Fusion, YCSA, Project Esperanza and Intercultural Youth Scotland. These organisations work hard to support young people facing racism in schools, but schools could be doing more to work with these groups to build their understanding among staff to better support black and minority ethnic young people and prevent further racist incidents from occurring.

Find out more about the United Voices Network here.

The United Voices Network is a Youth Link Scotland Network funded through the Sky Grants, a fund tackling racism and antisemitism in Scotland.

If you would like to join, contact Cynthia Gentle at .