The state of LGBT related anti-bullying legislation in the United States

As the country recognizes and supports LGBT pride and awareness this month, advocates across the country are working to address the problem of LGBT-related bullying in schools.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) notes that two types of laws exist that are meant to protect LGBT children and youth in schools:  fully enumerated anti-bullying laws and non-discrimination laws.

Enumerated laws are specific to protecting students from bullying related to sexual orientation or gender. There are 15 states with this type of law including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Non-discrimination laws also exist to provide protection for LGBT students in schools. Unlike fully enumerated legislation, some of these laws do not protect against discrimination based on gender identity, which is the case in Wisconsin. However, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia do provide some protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This type of legislation is incredibly important in order to offer both legal and physical protection to students. GLSEN notes that 6 out of 10 students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and transgender students have an even higher rate at 8 out of 10. Bullying introduces terrible risks for children and perhaps the greatest for LGBT youth. Many children report feeling unsafe in school, but the reality is that many of them actually are not safe. As many as 1 out of 5 have been physically harmed according to the 2009 National School Climate Survey. When children and youth feel threatened at school this often leads to further problems such as depression, thoughts of suicide, poor grades, mental and physical health problems that can extend into adulthood.

This year more and more states are recognizing the need for better and fully enumerated laws and are responding to the need by increasing anti-bullying legislation in order to protect LGBT students.

Two recent examples of these efforts:

The Pennsylvania State Legislature is pushing legislation that will target bullying in schools specifically based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislation, known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act, supports a larger education bill to combat bullying and harassment. Read more about it here.

At the federal level, Senator Al Franken has recently reintroduced the Student Non-discrimination Act that offers protection to students against harassment and bullying based on gender or sexual identity. The bill offers nationwide protection, modeled after Title IX legislation, and remedies discrimination in public schools based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Do you know the laws in your state? What’s being done to protect LGBT students from bullying?



American Street Kid

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, a 2002 study put out by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) found that there are over 1.6 million homeless and runaway youth in the United States, and this number is growing every year.

The National Coalition for the Homeless notes that these youth become homeless for a variety of reasons typically falling under three, often related, categories: family problems, economic problems, and residential instability. Youth leave home to escape problems, but they often become exposed to a wide variety of violence, including trauma, abuse, poverty, substance abuse, and increased incidence of contracting illnesses such as HIV. Many also face the challenges of finding safe places to sleep or even feeding themselves.

American Street Kid is a new documentary film sharing the stories of youth that have experienced the terrible reality of the traumas and difficulties that can lead to homelessness. The film was created by film maker Michael Leoni using footage from five years worth of interviews and work on the streets of Los Angeles collecting the voices of hundreds of youth living on the city’s streets.

This film is working to raise awareness about the very real problem of youth homelessness and to give voice to the millions of children and youth that are homeless across the United States.

Check out the campaign below:

American Street Kid

Women Making an Impact on CEV: Susan Craig

This month the Safe Start Center is honoring National Women’s History Month by profiling women who have made an impact on the issue of children’s exposure to violence.

Susan CraigDr. Susan E. Craig is an accomplished author having published books including Reaching and Teaching Children Who Hurt: Strategies for Your Classroom as well as having created the essential training series Including All Children: Supporting Preschool Children with Disabilities. 

Dr. Craig is also a professional trainer committed to teaching and training school staff throughout the country. Her work provides them with professional development tools to help them in creating an inclusive and trauma-informed environment for their students. Her ultimate goal is to help parents and caregivers support children effected by trauma and help them to thrive.

You can also read more about her work on her blog

Why do you feel children’s exposure to violence and traumatic stress is an important issue and how did you get involved?

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)  26% of children under age four have suffered some type of trauma or toxic stress. We know that prolonged exposure to stress in early childhood changes the architecture of children’s brains in ways that threaten every aspect of their well-being: their ability to learn, as well as their physical and mental health. And yet there is no public outrage about it.

My interest in the relationship between CEV and learning began early in my career when I was working as a reading specialist. Many of the children referred for evaluations had histories of family violence. So I decided to find out if there was a connection. My doctoral dissertation established a relationship between CEV and subsequent learning problems in language, memory, impulsivity, self-differentiation and executive function. These findings, (published in Phi Delta Kappan in 1992) are now confirmed by research which documents the relationship between CEV and brain development.

What would you say are a few of the most valuable things you have learned through your work in schools training teachers and staff about the impact of trauma on children?

A trauma sensitive approach to teaching reflects best practices in education. Its emphasis on relationships, safety, and self-regulation benefit all children. So schools should jump at the chance, rather than fear implementing trauma sensitive strategies.

What would you like to see develop in research, policy and/or communities regarding children’s exposure to violence and traumatic stress?

How does CEV affect literacy and language development? Many of the adolescents who drop out or who are incarcerated cannot read. It is possible that the deficits in executive functioning observed in CEV combine to make learning to read difficult. I’d like to know more about that.

In terms of policy, we need to revamp early intervention services to make them available to all infants and toddlers. Children with disabilities make tremendous gains when they receive services from birth. I think we would see similar gains for children exposed to violence.

I would like to see educators invited to collaborate with mental health and juvenile justice professionals. Teachers work every day with children exposed to violence. Their participation in discussions of community based support is invaluable.

Awareness: the Link Between Bullying and Suicide

This past weekend, a family and community got together to remember 12-year-old Payton Ruth Anne Richardson, who shot herself six months ago. In her memory they are working to raise awareness about bullying because they believe that it contributed to her suicide. More of the story is available here.

More and more, stories like Payton’s have been seen in the news in the last year, and it isn’t just a problem in the United States. Just a few months ago, a 13-year-old Japanese boy jumped to his death after having been forced to regularly “practice suicide.” A report from the BBC shares a video about a study conducted by a bullying prevention charity, Beatbullying. It found that possibly more than 40 percent of suicides among 10- to 14-year-olds may be bullying-related.

There is also a growing number of statistics on the link between bullying and suicide. shares a list:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. More than 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
  • Victims of bullying are between two  to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.
  • 10- to 14-year-old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above.
  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.

Suicide is the worst potential consequence related to exposure to bullying. It is important that children, parents and communities are fully aware of both the signs and symptoms of bullying and suicide. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center recently shared an issue brief on Suicide and Bullying that frames the issue and provides some great ideas for prevention. You can check it out here.

For more resources and information on the issue of bullying and prevention, checkout the Safe Start Center Bullying Resources page.

Guest post: Join the Movement to Promote Children’s Mental Health

By Joy Spencer, Policy and Research Assistant for the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health. Their website features tons of resources and information about their efforts.

The first full week in May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week!  Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week is dedicated to increasing public awareness about the triumphs and challenges in children’s mental health, emphasizing the importance of family and youth involvement and leadership in the mental health movement.

Children’s mental health matters. Emotional, behavioral, mental health and substance abuse needs cut across all income, educational, geographical, religious and other cultural groups.  One in five young people have one or more emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges.  One in ten youth have challenges severe enough to impair how they function at home, school, or within the community. [1] And 80 percent of people who experience mental health or substance use challenges report onset before the age of 20.[2]

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CEV Awareness Week: Community Violence

The issue of exposure to violence touches on a wide range of issues. This week we’re highlighting awareness about Children Exposed to Violence and one of its most difficult and common exposures – community violence.

What exactly do we mean by “community violence” and how does it affect children?

Well, the NYU Child Study Center states:

“Community violence (CV) refers to exposure, as a witness or through actual experience, to acts of interpersonal violence perpetrated by individuals who are not intimately related to the victim. In contrast to community violence, domestic violence refers to acts of interpersonal violence between adult intimate partners.”

But, it is also important to remember that community violence can happen anywhere, and is an umbrella for a variety of issues that include things such as gang violence and delinquency.

Now that we’ve explained what it is, what is the affect on children?

According the National Survey on Children Exposed to Violence (NatSCEV)

“19.2 percent of U.S. children under the age of 18 witnessed an assault in their community during a one-year period. The percentage rises with the age of the child: 5.8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds witnessed an assault in their community, while 42.2 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds witnessed an assault.

Exposure to community violence can hurt children and they are more likely as they grow to develop a harmful and hostile view of the world. They are also one of the highest groups at-risk for re-victimization later in life.

Let’s take a look at gang violence as one aspect of a kind of community violence that negatively impacts kids.

First, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry defines “gangs [as] groups of children, adolescents and young adults who share a common identity and are involved in wrongful or delinquent activities.” These same activities can lead to repeat victimizations or even death.

A recent example from the, Chicago Sun-Times, shares the severe consequences of youth related community gang violence in the Chicago neighborhood of Roger’s Park. In just the past week alone, there were 16 shootings, including 5 murders, showing an increase in the level of violence since 2011. Sadly, this is just one example of many.

But there are ways to fight back that communities and individuals can use to help stop the exposure to violence in their communities.

A great example of this can be seen here, Roseland’s churches campaign to stop neighborhood violence. Churches, residents and community groups in this Chicago neighborhood are banding together to start community-wide efforts to teach awareness about violence exposure. These efforts are targeted to help treat survivors of violence and to help increase protection for their children in the community.

If you want more resources and programs that help prevent community violence, check out the Child Welfare Information Gateway. They have a wide variety of resources and here you’ll find a specific list of state and local examples.

You can also check out more about what the Safe Start initiative has done to help children exposed to violence in the community and other settings in the Communities Working Together To Help Children Exposed to Violence Findings From Phase I of the Safe Start Initiative.

Please continue to join us this week as we talk more about CEV awareness!

Boys, Sexual Assault and Mandated Reporting Update

Back in December we discussed the Penn State scandal and conducted a campaign to raise awareness about the basics of mandated reporting. But what has happened since then? Well, to bring you up to date on those happenings, and support Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness month, we’d like to talk about two important issues as a follow up to that campaign.

The first issue is how the country has responded to the Penn State scandal.

You can check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ comprehensive overview of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting State Statutes. Click here to see the chart which outlines several of the steps in reporting child abuse and neglect. It also links to full summaries of each state’s law on the issue.

Since the scandal unfolded you can now view updates on these state statutes.  Approximately 98 bills in 29 states and the District of Columbia have been introduced in the 2012 legislative session on the reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. Five states have enacted legislation.

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