Suzie Hayman, running the problem page in Who Cares? the UK magazine for young people in care, recently received this letter from a boy in care, and rather than answer it herself, took it along to a children's home in Coventry to ask the kids there. Her conclusion? The professionals aren't the only ones with the answers!
The boy's question: "I'm a 12-year-old boy and I live in a children's unit. I have been in care for a while, but a few weeks ago I moved here. The problem is that I am being bullied. I am picked on by the kids here, mainly two other boys. They do it because I'm young and weak. The staff do speak to them, but it just keeps going. It's getting on my nerves."
I think it's out of order that you're getting picked on. No one should do that to you. The bullies probably think they're cool and hard. They're just showing off and trying to get their own way. If you said something about them, they wouldn't like it.
You could try to ignore them. You could also talk to your friends in the unit, but you're new there and might not have many friends. If things get really bad, you could phone the police. People tend to get picked on when they're seen as different or outsiders. Maybe that is why it's happening – you're seen as the new boy. Once you settle in, you will feel better.
There are a number of things you can do. You can tell your key worker and, if possible, your parents. With their support, you should talk to the boys. You need to tell them to stop, but you shouldn't have to do this on your own. Ask them what they're playing at and say how it's making you feel. It's probably making you feel depressed. I also think it makes a difference that you're new to the unit. Maybe you've left other friends behind? It might be that these new kids are jealous that you've got things that they haven't got. You say they pick on you because you're young and weak, but that might just be the way you think about yourself.
I think it's right to keep talking to the staff, but be careful about what you say to the other kids. A lot of the time, if you threaten to tell on people, they do something to you.
The staff should always be around and they should spend more time with you. That would make things better in the unit, but it would also mean that there's no chance of the kids being left on their own to keep bullying you. If that doesn't work, someone should be moved. I don't think you should always have to stick up for yourself. Some people will do that, but it won't be so easy for others. It also depends how much experience you have of living in a unit.
The other thing is that kids do stick up for each other. As long as it's not your fault that you're getting picked on, other kids can help you. This is hard because we've all been there too. We know what it's like. Everyone has been bullied, but we've also had a go at someone who is smaller than us. If you've been bullied, maybe you're more likely to do it yourself. Half the time, kids do it to feel better.
Talk to your mum and dad when you go home to see them. If you can't do that, I strongly suggest that you get to know one of the staff in the unit. Talk it through.
If the bullying is still going on, then sit down with the people who are bullying you and say how you feel about what they are doing. You're probably feeling really hurt. If things still don't go well, ask the staff to speak to everyone. They can ask the bullies to remember how they felt when they first moved into a strange place.
Maybe they see that you're a good lad, and that's why they're picking on you. When bullies see that one person has got something going for him, they might feel that they haven't. They can also do it if they see you to be different, like if you have a disability.
You could ask to be moved, but that might not work. If you keep on moving, you won't know where you are!
There's something we talk about here where I am, which I think you should do – it's "stop, think, discuss, plan and agree action."
This means that you stop and think about what's happening. Think before you speak and don't just lash out. It would be easy to say something nasty, but that wouldn't be fair. Instead, discuss the problem with the staff and the unit. If there's one person you can trust, go to a corner and tell them about it.
You're then ready to plan how to deal with the bullying. The final part is about agreeing the action. It might be that you agree to stay away from the bullies and to walk away when they pick on you.
Before someone moves into a unit, I think they should be welcomed to the group. They should feel wanted. The other kids should think about the new person -- think before they speak.
You should tell your best friend, or your friends in the unit. They could talk to the staff for you.
The staff should deal with it. Ask them to speak to all the kids about bullying. Also, they should talk privately to the kids who are picking on you.
You could also get another adult to help you. If you have a brother who comes to visit, you could tell him. Maybe your brother could ask the other kids why they're doing it. Tell them to pick on someone their own size.
You need to know that other people care about you. If not, you can be really scared and feel like you just want to run away. It wouldn't sort out the problem, but that's what you might think of doing.
Get the bullies on your side. Find out what they like doing, such as football, and invite them for a game.