FUSE: Tackling Bullying and Online Safety

The meaning of FUSE is to join or blend to form a single entity. Through Irish and international best research practice, DCU’s National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre developed the FUSE programme to connect the whole school community as one to empower them to tackle bullying and online safety together. In this piece, Darran Heaney, FUSE Project Manager, gives details on the programme and discusses the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on young people’s online behaviour and safety.

FUSE is an anti-bullying and online safety programme developed for primary and post-primary students. Can you outline the structure of the programme and how the programme differs between primary and post-primary students?

We launched the FUSE programme to second year students in post-primary education in January 2019 with the support of Facebook. As part of the programme, teachers attend training courses throughout the year, while students take part in workshops with different themes touching on bullying, empathy, relationships, online safety and social media. At FUSE, our ethos is to always place students at the centre of our programmes, so after completing all five workshops, students are then tasked with creating an action plan for their school to address bullying and online safety. The FUSE programme for second class students in primary schools launched in October 2020, and will have a similar structure to the post-primary programme but will feature different themes such as reporting bullying and learning to respond, not react.

FUSE is supported by Facebook and Rethink Ireland. What impact has this support had on the success of the programme so far?

The initial €1 million commitment from Facebook enabled us to move FUSE from a research programme to an educational programme for post-primary students. Without this support from Facebook, it would have been a challenge to implement our research and findings and enable young people to grow confident in their abilities in addressing bullying and online safety. We then received an uplift from Rethink Ireland in January 2020, which allowed us to widen our reach and delve into the primary education space in Ireland.

The support from Facebook, Rethink Ireland and the Department of Education and Skills has also been crucial in helping create online resources for students, parents and teachers, which include informational videos, webinars and worksheets. These resources are available online at www.antibullyingcentre.ie/fuse and tacklebullying.ie so that we can reach more people and empower them to navigate any issues they face when it comes to bullying and online safety.

How important is it to involve both parents and teachers in the programme and support them in understanding bullying, noticing bullying and preventing bullying?

With 65% of bullying victims not telling an adult about their experience, there is a clear need for such an intervention that focuses on providing training for teachers and parents who face the growing challenge of supporting students to deal with all the complexities and dangers associated with bullying, cyberbullying and online safety. FUSE is based on research and best practices from around the world which our team of researchers at DCU’s National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre have accumulated. From this research, we have found that the best way to approach bullying and promote online safety is to include the young people involved, their parents and their schools.

“Tackling bullying and online safety is no one single person’s issue, it’s an issue that can be solved by working together to find the best way to address the issues, so it’s important to provide learnings and resources to all involved to develop best practices for tackling bullying.”

 

Covid-19 has moved many aspects of our daily lives online. How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted young people’s time spent on the internet as well as their safety?

DCU’s National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre undertook a study on the experiences of Irish children and families during the Covid-19 lockdown in partnership with the Joint Research Centre of the European Commissions. Like many of us, children’s time spent online increased during lockdown, with a 68% average increase in the use of technology such as smart phones, online gaming, social media and direct messaging among 10-18 year olds, as well as an 18% increase in the technology acquired by families in Ireland during lockdown.

The study also showed an increase in cyberbullying across all digital platforms, with 28% of 10-18 year old’s surveyed reporting to have been victims of cyberbullying during lockdown, while 50% reported to have seen others being cyberbullied. This study highlighted the importance of helping parents and young people identify bullying, both in-person and online, and learning how to find solutions and identify initiatives to tackle bullying and online safety.

Looking forward, what does FUSE hope to achieve in the next few years of the programme?

In the 2019/20 academic year, we engaged with 385 school staff, 398 parents and 1,622 students in post-primary schools, so we hope to build on this success and recruit new schools to the programme as well. In Year 2 of the FUSE programme for post-primary schools, the focus is on the parents, so we are looking to develop our resources and translate our research so that more parents can easily access and understand the information. We hope to have the same success with our primary school programme, and aim to roll the programme out to students of all ages in primary and post-primary schools in Ireland.

 

If you want to learn more about the FUSE programme, please visit www.antibullyingcentre.ie/fuse/