Project on young people at risk extended to primary schools

Shirley Pang

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Project C.A.R.E. (Children and Adolescents at Risk Education), spearheaded by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), has recently received renewed funding of more than $6.7 million from the Quality Education Fund (QEF). The grant will allow the project to continue studying school bullying in Hong Kong and expand its scope from secondary schools to primary schools.

Directed by Dr Annis Fung Lai-chu,

Assistant Professor from the Department of Applied Social Studies at CityU, Project C.A.R.E had since 2006 received $4.1 million from the QEF. Thirty secondary schools have taken part in the project and 158 secondary schools are on the enrolment waiting list. To allow expansion into primary schools between 2009 and 2011, the QEF provided another grant to take the total contribution to well in excess of $10 million over five years.

"In view of the worsening problem of violence among teenagers and children, it is important to expand the scope of the project into primary schools. We can then prevent school violence by providing help to students, parents and social workers in need," said Dr Fung.

The project is effective in helping both the aggressors and victims of school bullying. Through questionnaires and interviews, it identifies aggressors and victims from among more than 5,000 students each year. Both the aggressors and victims receive 10 sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy treatment and their changes in behaviour are assessed by teachers and parents before and after the treatment. Significant improvement was found in the aggressors’ bullying and mischievous behaviour as well as an alleviation of emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, anger and irritation after the treatment. The victims also indicated that there was not only a reduction in physical and language bullying but also a lessening of peer discrimination against them. Their levels of anxiety and depression were also improved.

Based on its successful past experiences, the project will be rolled out to primary schools, with service to 10 secondary schools and 10 primary schools each year. The services are entirely free and no additional school staff is required. As the guidance methods adopted by parents have a far-reaching effect on children’s violent tendencies and behaviour, the project will develop appropriate counselling groups and parallel parent-child groups. It will help aggressors and victims enjoy school life again.

Dr Fung said a Project C.A.R.E. Committee will be set up, with members comprising school co-workers, parents and professionals with expertise in school bullying. The committee is responsible for reviewing the current education policy and making recommendations to the government, schools and social welfare organisations.

Besides therapy, the project also stresses other ways of tackling school bullying. The approaches include the launch of the “Harmony Ambassador Scheme” in secondary schools, training of potential students to become peer leaders, helping schools to identify aggressors and victims and encouraging a caring culture in schools. The project will organise various talks and workshops for students, teachers and parents in order to prevent bullying. The activities are aimed at helping students learn more about aggressive behaviour and reflect on how they should get along with peers. Teachers will receive professional consultation services to enhance their skills in dealing with students’ aggressive behaviour and helping victims rebuild their confidence. For parents, the talks and workshops will help improve their skills in guiding and teaching their children and thus promote better relationships. In the near future, the project will set up an online sharing forum to allow teachers and students to exchange their views and suggestions on how to mitigate school bullying.

The Project will strengthen training for teachers and parents and promote zero tolerance of bullying. Training workshops will be held for new teachers, counsellors, social workers and counselling officers to enhance their skills in handling bullying cases. Certificate courses will be arranged for parents to provide a discussion platform for them to review their guidance methods with children. Through Harmony School Competitions, the project will evaluate the performance of schools in preventing bullying. Various activities, including drama and slogan writing, will be held to equip students with the skills to tackle the problem of bullying.

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