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Effects of childhood bullying in adulthood

August 28, 2013

Some exciting and interesting research has just been completed and published by psychological scientists Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick, William E. Copeland of Duke University Medical Center and two others[1].  It excites and interests us at Red Balloon because it supports our campaign to raise awareness of the need of recovery centres such as ours.

We at Red Balloon know what the children are like when they first arrive – self-harming, lacking confidence, silent, depressed, self-loathing, blaming themselves for what happened to them, finding learning difficult, not wanting to expose their learning ability because they feel they will be behind their peers, and suffering many other psychological and mental health problems. So it comes as no surprise to us that “serious illness, struggling to hold down a regular job and poor social relationships are just some of the adverse outcomes in adulthood faced by those exposed to bullying in childhood”.

There is little published research on the impact of bullying on the lives of children once they are old enough to leave school. We have struggled to get others to recognise this. But with this new research we can continue to press for a recovery programme available in our communities for children such as these.

So what do these children need? Well, they need what Red Balloon provides – a recovery programme which integrates academic work with social, emotional and therapeutic support to help the children regain their confidence, their love of learning and their ability to get on with their studies. In this community in which children have time to ‘find themselves’, to form relationships with peers, to learn to trust adults and to trust their own feelings and, most importantly, to allow some of the psychological problems they have faced dissolve, we find the children recover.  95% of the children who stay with us longer than six weeks return to mainstream school, move on to college or employment.

Our recovery programme, known as ‘Knowing You, Knowing Me’, is a combination of personal and social education, teaching children to look others in the eye, to provide them with opportunities to find their voice and to realise they have opinions which are respected, to learn strategies for avoiding conflict, strategies for dealing with their anger, their fear, their depression but above all to begin to like and value themselves again.

We also provide opportunities for children to go out of the Centre to visit museums, art galleries, theatres and cinemas to combine socialising and learning. Many of the children at a Red Balloon hadn’t been out of their home socially for months and in some cases years because they were too frightened of meeting their bullies. Often they have no close friends. Their time at Red Balloon provides them with this opportunity.

We also embed counselling and therapy sessions alongside maths, English, science, art and all the other subjects offered. These sessions thus become an ordinary and regular weekly commitment.

One of Wolke’s assertions is:  “We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up. We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant.”

So perhaps this research will help policy makers, politicians and senior educators change their mindset about bullying, to recognise the serious and long lasting problems that it causes and the impact it has not only on the victim of bullying but the country as a whole.  These children need to recover – to abandon them leaves an unresolved problem for family, friends, social services, the National Health Service and other government departments.  It leaves the children depressed, ill-educated, unemployable, lacking self-confidence and the ability to make a contribution to society. They are eminently recoverable as long as time and money are spent to help them recover. Red Balloon is currently the only provision specifically set up to return this group of children to their former selves, to get them back into school and to see that they have a bright and interesting future.  Some amendments to the Children and Families Bill currently going through the Houses of Parliament have been proposed to address these issues. Spearheaded by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying, chaired by Baroness Sal Brinton and Barry Sheerman MP, of which Red Balloon is the secretariat, these amendments are designed to find funding for this group of otherwise ignored children.

Carrie Herbert MBE, Chief Executive
Red Balloon Learner Centre Group, 7a Chesterton Mill, French’s Road, Cambridge CB4 3NP
Tel: 01223 366052  •  Email:

[1] Copeland, We., Wolke, D., Angold, A., & Costello, E. (2013). Adult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(4), 419-426.



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