Peer abuse as a legislated child protection issue for schools

Year: 2005

Author: Healey, Jean

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Bullying or peer abuse is now recognized as an endemic feature of school life and efforts are being made to comprehensively address the issue at the school level through policy and curriculum development as well as individual interventions. Recent child protection legislation in NSW has raised significant ethical and professional issues involved in determining responses to peer abuse. It may be timely to consider such abuse as a child protection issue for schools given the well documented long-term impact of the behaviour. The proclamation in December 2000 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 in NSW, mandates early notification of all forms of abuse, and increases both the level of responsibility and liability for litigation of teachers and schools for failure to offer the appropriate level of protection to victims. This paper discusses the evidence available in the literature that peer abuse correlates closely with child abuse in terms of social and psychological characteristics, impact and outcomes. It explores the application of the legislation specifically to the abuse of children and young people by their peers, and the responsibility of teachers under this law to provide protection for victims. A case study is discussed describing recent successful litigation against the Department of Education and Training in NSW which serves to illustrate that severe peer abuse fits the definitions and applications of the Act. It is suggested that early invocation of the child protection process prescribed may help avoid litigation in future but more importantly could provide early protection for victims of serious peer abuse.