Twenty years ago there was no special provision for traumatised children (including those who had been severely bullied) who were too frightened to go to school and no bespoke programme to help them recover.
If your daughter or son was begging to be allowed to stay at home with a range of recurring vague illnesses such as a tummy or head ache or said ‘Mummy/Daddy I just feel ill’ and they were refusing to go school, the only two options were to move them to another school or for them to stay at home and be home educated. There were no suitable alternatives to mainstream school for them.
So they stayed at home under the duvet, getting more behind, more isolated and more depressed. Some killed themselves. And many local authorities turned a blind eye to this problem. In fact when I opened Red Balloon in my house in 1996 and rang the LA to tell them I was starting a school for bullied children – their response was - “how many do you want?” – clearly a problem but at that time no solution.
Now I am pleased to say the alternative, Red Balloon, has filled that gaping hole and there are RB Centres in Cambridge, Norwich, NW London and Reading, a virtual Centre called Red Balloon of the Air which can theoretically help any child anywhere in the UK, and a mini-Centre in mid Essex. In 2013-14 over 80children were recovered. But we have more work to do, as there are over 16,000 secondary-aged children missing education because of bullying.
Since the mid-nineties methods of preventing bullying in schools have certainly improved and there are many strategies and programmes which limit or reduce its incidence and support the bullied and those who bully. Yet there are still children who become so traumatised by the bullying that they refuse to go, and self-excluding bullied children are given no additional money to pay for their temporary ‘intensive care’ needs.
That is a pity, because these children are eminently recoverable. Most are ‘ordinary’ children who want to go to school but for this short period of time stop going because those who bully have made life too tough. Many are very able with a fine future before them, whose ambitions and vision have been temporarily scuppered because they have been picked on incessantly. In fact given the right programme 95% of them can get back on track. A safe academic and therapeutic environment is what these children need.
To find out more about Red Balloon's work and what it has acheived over the last 20 years please click here to watch our 20th Anniversary film.
Dr Carrie Herbert MBE
Founder and President