Welcome to the Shield Anti-Bullying Programme

The Shield programme aims to support organisations in their efforts to proactively manage bullying and protect children and young people from bullying through prevention and intervention strategies.

Bullying is a complex social issue and can occur in many different settings including schools, sporting and youth club activities, the home, social groups, in communities and online. 

From listening to and supporting children and young people we know that bullying continues to occur, and this can have significant impacts on a child and young persons’ life sometimes well into adulthood. There is much work to be done to minimise all forms of bullying and, thereby, negate the potential impact of bullying.

We encourage organisations to work through the Shield Self-Evaluation Tool and to receive upon review and support by ISPCC Shield Status for their organisation.

Bullying is a major issue for children and young people

• School-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%. (McCallion & Feder, 2013) (4)

Definition of Bullying

"Bullying is in-person and online behaviour between children and young people within a social network that causes physical, emotional, or social harm to targeted young people. It is characterized by an imbalance of power that is enabled or inhibited by the social and institutional norms and context of schools/organisations and the education system. Bullying implies an absence of effective responses and care towards the target by peers and adults"
UNESCO, 2020

About the Shield Self-Evaluation Tool

The Self-Evaluation tool is a key component of the programme and is designed for any organisation working with children and young people, e.g., schools, crèches, clubs, residential settings etc.

There is now a large body of evidence regarding effective approaches to bullying and what has been proven to work. 

ISPCC has distilled the latest research into ten Shield Statements that are evidenced based. By reflecting on each of the ten statements and associated questions, organisations will identify their areas of strength and those necessitating development in their approach to bullying.

What are the benefits to your organisation?

• Provides a trusted, evidence-informed resource that supports your organisation to gauge how effective it is in relation to bullying, based on the evidence provided throughout your responses.

• Assists your organisation to identify areas for development and guidance on how to realise these in a time-efficient manner.

• An evidence-informed approach makes it more likely that the positive effects identified in research studies will be replicated within participating organisations’ environments.

• Being awarded Shield Status will signal to parents/carers, children and young people, the community and those involved that the organisation is proactively managing its approach to bullying and is committed to continuous improvement in combatting bullying.

Shield Programme Testimonals

Achieving Shield Status

Organisations that are awarded Shield Status will receive the following:

  • Access to the most up to-date research and a library of supporting materials/videos and lesson plans which will be continuously updated
  • A Shield graphic for
    display on your organisation’s website
  • Certificate of your organisation’s achievement 
  • Letter template to announce the attainment of your Shield Status to parents/caregivers
  • Recognition on ispcc.ie

Please Note:

  • Shield Status is awarded for a two-year period after which point, it must be renewed.
  • Shield Status is not an endorsement by ISPCC that bullying has not and will not occur in the organisation

How to register for the Self-Evaluation tool

The self-evaluation tool is designed for online use. You will receive a PDF version of the self-reflection tool to help you and your team to review the questions and content before filling out the questionnaire. 

For information or support from our Anti-bullying coordinator, please email [email protected]     

Self-Evaluation Tool Registration Form

Overview of the 10 Shield Statements

“We acknowledge that bullying is an issue for all organisations and the wider community.”

Research clearly shows children bully other children (Baldry & Farrington 1999; Berthold & Hoover 2000; Olweus 1995). Regardless of the best efforts of advocates, the potential for bullying still exists and a consistent unified approach is required to prevent bullying from occurring and to intervene if bullying occurs. This sociological approach to bullying is reflected in UNESCO’s (2020) revised definition of bullying:

            ‘Bullying is in-person and online behaviour between children and children and young people within a social network that causes physical, emotional, or social harm to targeted young people. It is characterized by an imbalance of power that is enabled or inhibited by the social and institutional norms and context of schools/organisations and the education system. Bullying implies an absence of effective responses and care towards the target by peers and adults’

The physical, emotional, or social harm experienced by children and young people who are targeted by bullying is not directly linked to the number of times this young person is bullied. Therefore, repetition is not seen as a main characteristic of bullying anymore. In some instances, one incident of bullying and the implied threat of more instances can be perceived by a young person as equally harmful as several occurrences of bullying, whether this incident involves one or several perpetrators (UNESCO, 2020). Traditional bullying and cyberbullying are known to have not only long-term detrimental consequences on children’s physical and mental health but also on social and financial outcomes in their futures (Debby, 2020).

“Our organisation has an effective Anti-Bullying policy in place which is available for everyone to access.”

An effective Anti-Bullying policy is a culmination of inputs, suggestions and solutions from the whole organisation’s community bringing a feeling of ownership from all involved (Smith, Cowie & Sharp, 1994). The definition of bullying emphasizes that off-line and online bullying are clearly linked to an absence of effective responses and care towards the targeted children and children and young people by their peers, by adults in the education system, and by the system itself – Implying responsibility of members of the organisation and community in building a safe environment and acting when they witness bullying behaviours both online and offline (UNESCO, 2020). Organisations should ensure that, along with the implementation of their Anti-Bullying policy, they have effective leadership in place to oversee and drive their policy and Shield statements while also considering the following:

  • The policy is based on current evidence of how best to respond to bullying while taking account of legal and recommended guidelines (O’ Moore & Minton, 2004).
  • The policy has a clear understanding of bullying and details the appropriate steps required to resolve and prevent bullying within the organisation.
  • The policy reflects the research and guidance of the Report of the Anti-Bullying Working Group to the Minister for Education and Skills January 2013 which the Shield Knight should be familiar with in conjunction with this ISPCC Shield Self-Evaluation Tool for Prevention, Intervention and Protection from Bullying.

“Bullying incidences are recorded, analysed, and followed through consistently.”

All anti-bullying policies require practical implementation daily. According to UNESCO (2020), often bullied children and children and young people asking for help were requested to prove that their experiences fitted the definition of the organisations bullying: were the actions they experienced not repetitive and perceived as

intentional, they could not be recognized as organisation bullying and helping them could not be justified.

By focusing on the experience of the target, organisation should provide children and children and young people who have experienced physical, emotional or social harm, with support, regardless of how many times they have been bullied.

Shield Statement Report and Collect asks us to reflect on how we record bullying incidences, where we record them (where is the data kept), and how are they managed. 

“Our whole community approach to bullying is reflected in our policy which is a culmination of ideas and thoughts from the whole community in which our organisation is based. “

Children and young people who are bullied by peers exhibit a lower sense of belonging to their communities and higher levels of depressive symptomatology, as well as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Witcomb, 2019).

Young people, parents/caregivers, coaches, local agencies, and the wider community members have a greater sense of ownership and commitment to a policy if they have had the opportunity to feed into the process and have their views heard. Making clear that bullying occurs within the social network of schools, clubs, and all organisations and community relationships implies that all stakeholders in the community should be involved in the response to bullying.  This includes personnel, boards, managers, principals and parents/caregivers, together with other stakeholders in the wider community for both off-line and online bullying, using multiples entry points for interventions (UNESCO, 2020).

As an organisation, it is more likely you will stay motivated and keep to your anti-bullying policies if you have an agreement with the wider community.

Organisations who adopt a whole organisation approach experience a significant reduction in bullying. Whole organisation interventions were identified as having more positive results when compared to other approaches such as interventions involving social skills training, bullying interventions and computer-based interventions (Silva et al, 2017).

While the organisation is required have an anti-bullying policy, the involvement of all interested groups will garner support and a level of acceptance that is not easily achieved with a policy that is ‘handed down from on high’. (O’ Moore & Minton, 2004).     

A systematic review by Ttofi and Farrington (2011), reported that parent-personnel meetings were significantly related to decreases in traditional bullying perpetration and victimization. Olweus and Limber (2010), also encouraged parent/caregiver involvement in bullying interventions at school, classroom, club and other organisation level and community.

In Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) parents/caregivers were even included as important stakeholders of the bullying prevention coordinating committee to ensure fidelity and a proper implementation of the anti-bullying program. (Olweus & Limber, 2010). Therefore, adopting a more active approach (i.e., involving parents/caregivers and community members) and having constant updates can potentially better reduce the frequencies of traditional bullying (Debby, 2020).

And no view of this concept would be complete without Peter Senge’s description of learning organisations as:

‘Organisations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results, they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together’ (Senge, 2003: p. 3).

“Our organisation is inclusive and our activities acknowledge diversity and individual difference among young people, personnel and the wider community.”

An organisation that values difference and openly acknowledges diversity will help promote a culture of tolerance and acceptance among the whole community. The sociological approach to bullying implies that prevention in and through education should address what structures in the institutional context of organisations such as schools or clubs and the education system enable bullying. More broadly speaking, existing social norms produce and maintain the types of power imbalance that fuel bullying behaviours. This is particularly true for those social norms that lead to the social exclusion of some categories of children and children and young people due to their appearance or identity, for example norms related to masculinity and femininity that justify that children and children and young people who do not conform to existing gender norms can be targeted by bullying. Reducing bullying without addressing those norms cannot work (UNESCO, 2020).

Diversity is defined by recognition, belief, and acceptance of differences in race, ethnicity, culture, beliefs, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, physical characteristics, language, socioeconomic status, marital status, etc (Juvonen et al., 2018).

During pubertal years, adolescents undergo many changes related to their bodies, minds and personalities. They struggle to form their identities and with their self-esteem caught in the balance, this puts them at risk of bullying others and being bullied themselves. (Debby 2020). With these changes, comes a risk of exclusion which lowers self-esteem.

The promotion of tolerance and respect for individual differences will help prevent and counter bullying behaviour based on perceived differences (O’ Moore & Minton, 2004). To promote a positive culture within the organisation and an atmosphere of inclusivity, key messages need to be reinforced throughout the year.

“Our evidence-based intervention strategies are actively implemented on an on-going basis and address the multiple aspects of need that exist in each bullying situation. “

All approaches to bullying should acknowledge the different levels of need that exist in every bullying situation. You may feel the organisation needs more support in implementing interventions, coming up with intervention strategies or your current intervention strategies may need updating that will be supported by the Shield Programme on completion. 

In fostering a multi-dimensional approach, organisations need to address the needs of all those affected by bullying from the target to the perpetrator to the bystander, to allies against bullying. It is only through identifying and addressing the needs of all involved that an organisation can be truly proactive against bullying.  

Research demonstrates that targets of bullying, both traditional and cyberbullying, can suffer mental health issues from low mood to self-harm which can follow them into adulthood. There is evidence indicating that bullying others puts the perpetrators at an elevated risk of experiencing mental illness and engaging in unlawful behaviour later in life (Menesini & Salmivalli, 2017).

The mental health of bully perpetrators is not well-examined. Studies have shown a slight increased risk of suicide or self-harm, and incrassated prevalence of psychotic experiences during adolescence. Adolescent’s targets of traditional bullying and cyberbullying have higher susceptibility to somatic (e.g., flu), psychosomatic, (e.g., sleeping disorders), and psychological (e.g., anxiety, depression) disorders. They are also more likely to have higher risks of self-harm and suicide, poorer internalization skills, poor academic achievements, and school absenteeism (Debby, 2020).  

When tackling bullying within an organisation it is important to consider the bystander. Evidence shows that off-line and online bullying often cause emotional and/or social harm not only for the young person who is targeted but also for children and children and young people who witness it and the social group to which they belong (UNESCO, 2020). Additionally, UNESCO (2020) argues that bullying is a relational phenomenon between children and children and young people that involves group dynamics, and that all children and children and young people should be involved in ensuring a caring environment where bystanders are empowered to support the young person being targeted by bullying. Raising awareness of bystander roles, demonstrating empathy, and showcasing strategies to support targeted peers is essential for any organisation.

The related terms and “diffusion of responsibility” were coined by social psychologists and describe situations in which a group of bystanders witness harm being done yet do nothing to help or stop the harmful activity. This can happen for several reasons; fear, thinking someone else will intervene or report it, confusion over what they have seen or heard or simply not knowing/feeling they have the power or voice to report it.  Moreover, if a personnel member, teacher, coach, etc. seems uninterested in stepping in to help a young person, bystanders are also deterred from intervening (Ploeg et al., 2017).

Supporters or advocates for children and children and young people against bullying can also find it difficult or stressful to know what to do, manage cases/reports and can suffer burnout. It is therefore very important to have a support system in place for them too.

“Our organisation is open to the uptake of new ideas, learning new skills and a change of behaviour to combat bullying. Our children and young people are regularly taught new ways of responding to bullying and personnel receive regular training and updates of evidence-based approaches to tackling bullying.”

Organisations need to have a thorough understanding of bullying behaviours which will enhance their confidence to intervene (Craig et al 2000b). The research around bullying, is ever evolving and to be effective allies against bullying, organisations need to ensure they familiarise themselves with the changing landscape. For example, UNESCO’s (2020), proposed new definition clearly focuses on the physical, emotional, and social harm experienced by the target of bullying instead of focusing on the “aggressive behaviour” of the perpetrator. This means that some countries the official definition of bullying has already evolved in this direction. For example, in Japan, bullying was originally defined as a ‘deviant behaviour’, then as ‘the harm caused by deviant behaviour’, to become ‘a sense of being harmed’. An organisation needs to be open to continuous training, reviewing current research and policy and to new ideas. In doing so, they are ensuring that they are in a better position to understand and be knowledgeable of bullying so they can recognise it and react appropriately.

“Our organisation actively tackles bullying behaviour through awareness-raising, tolerance and empathy-building as well as improving general levels of resilience and self- esteem.”

As research into cyberbullying continues, an increasing number of global studies have drawn the conclusion that research into factors fostering resilience in everyday contexts, may be key to protecting and improving children and young people’s well-being. Understanding the factors that might increase resilience or protect against the negative effects of bullying and cyberbullying is best and most often approached from – a social-ecological system perspective.

An effective approach to bullying is one which fosters and encourages positive pro-social behaviours from children and young people once negative bullying behaviours are addressed and not accepted. An atmosphere is needed whereby personnel members consistently encourage pro-social values and behaviours and where clear sanctions against bullying behaviour are implemented consistently (Cowie & Olafsson, 2000).    

Dyer and Teggart (2007), investigated the relationship between previous experiences of bullying and attendance at CAMHS (Child and Adolescents Mental Health Services), and found that 62.5% of the participants said that previous bullying experiences played a moderate to very important role in their attendance at the clinic. In addition, boys who had been bullied at school were more anxious and depressed and had poorer self-esteem than those without a history of bullying victimization (McMahon, 2010).

Many studies have indicated a link between traditional victimisation/targeting and poor self-esteem (e.g., Egan & Perry, 1998). However, it is unclear whether low self-esteem is a cause or a result of victimisation. Cook et al. (2010), highlighted that expressing negative attitudes and beliefs about oneself was associated with victimisation (both targets of bullying and those who bully).

When we have an environment that fosters and develops resilience, we can work on three core concepts; self-esteem, self-regulation, and social support.

“Children, Young People and personnel can report bullying concerns, they feel listened to and supported. We help build confidence to come forward no matter how small or big the perceived issue.”

Targets of bullying, perpetrators of bullying and bystanders of bullying need to feel:

  • They will be listened to
  • They can discuss any issue relating to bullying no matter how big or small
  • A non-judgmental approach will be taken
  • Empowered to let trusted adults know of any bullying concerns
  • Confident that a consistent and fair approach will be adopted as per the anti-bullying policy

When bullying behaviour is ignored it is condoned which can allow other children and young people to join in or passively view the incident. This can result in the bullying behaviour being reinforced with the bully gaining status through aggressive behaviour thus continuing the cycle of negative behaviour and increasing the likelihood of others joining in (Craig et al, 2000b).    

Evidence suggests that documenting incidents of bullying leads to a reduction of episodes, especially the physical forms of bullying (Flygare E. et al 2001). 

Several studies highlighted a tension between the desire to disclose their experiences of bullying including cyberbullying, to adults as children and young people fear the consequences of reporting it (Dennehy. 2020). Children and young people perceived adults as oblivious to the cyber world or inept in dealing with bullying incidences when there is not a clear statement and promise that bullying incidences will be recorded and listened to consistently. Children and young people were fearful of adults’ ill-considered actions in response to a report of bullying, afraid that adult intervention would lead to an intensification of bullying or an escalation.

“Online safety and digital competence is imperative for children and young people growing up today. Cyberbullying is a contemporary problem facilitated in recent years by a rapid growth in information and communication technology. Our organisation is committed to protecting children and young people from both traditional forms of bullying and cyberbullying from the perspective of young people.”

In recent years, the term ‘digital natives’ has been coined to describe children and young people who have grown up with increasing availability and use of digital technologies in the form of social media, Internet usage and socialising online. The age range within which cyberbullying is most frequently found is early to mid-adolescence, that is between 12-15 years.

For an overall review regarding online safety please visit
www.gov.ie/en/publication/ebe58-national-advisory-council-for-online-safety-nacos or click here to review the latest document on Report of a National Survey of Children, their Parents and Adults regarding Online Safety 2021.

Whilst the advantages of digital technology are of great benefit to adolescents and have been widely embraced, the increasingly ubiquitous use of online technologies has also brought with it increased risk in the form of cyberbullying (Cross et al., 2009). Cyberbullying has been defined as ‘negative or hurtful, behaviour, by the means of electronic communication tools, which involves an imbalance of power with the less-powerful person or group being unfairly attacked’ (Smith et al., 2008). Common forms involve relational and verbal bullying, including the distributing of rumours and/or hurtful comments, the issuing of images, threats, or disclosure of true or false personal information via phone text messages email, websites, gaming, or social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat). The new definition of bullying now has a reduced emphasis on repetition, this is particularly relevant to cyberbullying (UNESCO, 2020). Within cyberbullying, the harm experienced by targets of online bullying is often linked to the potential large number of people who can witness bullying behaviours in a very short period rather than via repetition, as well as the fear that a one-off message or picture might be reshared online.

Unlike traditional forms of bullying, cyberbullying of children and young people relies on the direct provision and use of tools, i.e., hardware and Internet access to teens mostly provided by parents/caregivers or schools. These tools help to provide anonymity, making it harder to control; harder to remove due to proliferation on networks that redistribute the content; and allowing the cyberbullying to invade the adolescent’s personal space (e.g., home, downtime) in a way that traditional bullying cannot (O’Moore, 2014). As a result, it is to be expected that a greater onus for coping and support may fall more frequently upon the young person’s own coping mechanisms and their personal social network (e.g., friends).

Sharing overlapping characteristics with traditional bullying, cyberbullying involves the use of electronic communication devices, with mobile phones (calls and text messages), social media and instant messaging on the internet being the most frequent platforms for cyberbullying. However, the ability to grant perpetrators anonymity and the ease of dissemination of materials online distinctly differentiate cyberbullying from traditional bullying (Debby, 2020). The nature of the cyber world alters the distribution of power and within cyberbullying, power relations can be identified as fluid and changeable. Features such as anonymity, ambiguity, accessibility, and public exposure are experienced as disempowering by targets and empowering by perpetrators.

Shield Status Schools and Clubs 2022 - 2024:

Anti-Bullying Guidance and Advice

Frequently Asked Questions

It is recommended that the lead for the self-evaluation tool is the anti-bullying coordinator or the person/s within the organisation who has overall responsibility for anti-bullying management.

The tool can be used on a one-to-one basis for individual reflection, but it is recommended that where possible several people contribute, ideally in group settings.  The tool works best if there is consensus within the organisation.

It is essential to bear in mind that an atmosphere of trust is integral to the process allowing for an open and honest debate of existing strengths and areas to build upon.     

In working through each Shield statement, the organisation embarks on a journey of reflection of where they are in terms of an evidence-informed approach to bullying.

We are available to respond to any queries you may have and offer support from our Anti-bullying Coordinator. This support can be accessed by emailing [email protected]    

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