Preventing and responding to peer-on-peer violence: young people’s insights


As SOS Children’s Villages continue to roll out its Safeguarding Action Plan for 2021-24, SOS Children’s Villages has been soliciting comments from young people on how best to tackle some of the issues raised in the latest Child Safeguarding Annual Report.

Interviews with young people for a newly launched ‘Safe Behaviours’ project – aimed at preventing peer-on-peer violence among children –revealed that better understanding, education and awareness raising are seen by many as the necessary first steps. 

“I think that the first thing to do is to make this topic really important, to talk about it, to make sure it’s not something that just gets passed over,” says one young person. “To do that you really have to set things up so that young people and children understand what it means, and not do it.”  

The goal of the EU-funded project, Applying Safe Behaviours: Preventing and Responding to Peer Violence amongst Children without or at Risk of Losing Parental Care, is to provide children, young people and relevant adults – including care practitioners and teachers – with the knowledge and tools needed to understand the reasons behind peer-on-peer violence and respond appropriately when it happens.  

Safe Behaviours will complement SOS Children’s Villages’ long-standing ‘Protective Behaviours’ programme, which focuses on a child’s right to feel safe at all times and promotes resilience and self-empowerment.  

In October, the Safe Behaviours youth consultation phase was launched in five European countries. Project consultant Dr. Chrissie Gale, Executive Director of Child Consulting Ltd., collected and reviewed the comments gathered from 46 peer-to-peer interviews conducted among 18-24 year olds in Belgium, France, Italy, Romania and Spain.  

She found that one of the primary requests from young people was for values such as anti-discrimination, friendship, unity and kindness to be an integral part of the culture within organizations that offer support and services to children. “Whatever organization you are, whatever service provider you are, wherever you operate, you should be ensuring that it is a safe space for children to live, learn and socialize in,” says Dr. Gale.  

Young people interviewed believe educating children about inequality and diversity can also reduce feelings of superiority and power imbalances that might otherwise lead to peer-on-peer violence. 

As one young person said: “Teach very young children that we are all equal, that there are boys, there are girls … they can be black, they can be white, they can be of any race. They can like anything, but that they are all, at the end of the day, children. And they will grow up and they will all do the same.” 

When asked how those affected by peer-on-peer violence – both initiators and those targeted – can be supported, interviewees felt that the provision of safe spaces was key. 

“If I knew that there is a safe space nearby where I can go and say that, for example, someone made fun of me, I would feel at ease and less worried. In short, young people need more neutral spaces where they can talk,” said one respondent. 

This includes ensuring the places in which children live and interact are safe, as well as creating specific places where they feel comfortable talking about their experience or reporting an incident. Having a responsible adult they can turn to – whether it is a parent, caregiver, or somebody within an organization who is specifically trained for this purpose – is another kind of “safe space”, and is particularly important for young people in alternative care settings who may not have access to the same level of support as other children. 

“In my experience, the most important thing for those who are bullied is to feel that they are not alone and to have an adult figure of trust,” said another respondent.   

Dr. Gale also reports that young people repeatedly emphasized the need for these adults to be trained in trauma-informed care. In many cases, those who initiate violence may themselves come from violent backgrounds, or may be struggling with something else that causes them to act out; it is important that adults do not just become angry with initiators of violence, but instead really investigate what’s happening to them, try to understand the individual context and address the situation appropriately.  

According to one young person: “They should be supported without being judged. Because, regardless of the reason for the aggression, whether it was physical, emotional, sexual, or via social media… whatever it was, we must make the child feel understood, not judged and, above all, accompanied in the process of overcoming or acceptance.” 

The Safe Behaviours project will be implemented in the five countries listed above over a 24-month period, with a focus on workshops and training for both young people and adults, online awareness-raising modules, and evidence-based policy recommendations.  The initial outputs and learnings will be used to inform the child safeguarding practices of SOS Children’s Villages in other countries and regions.

The Safeguarding Action Plan for 2021-24 is available here.

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