The Ring

Partnership recognized for reductions in bullying

Mon, 2013-12-09 18:02

A WITS educational program at Westmont school. Photo: UVic Photo Services
A WITS educational program at Westmont school.
CIHR Partnership Award recipients with Governor General David Johnston.
CIHR Partnership Award recipients with Governor General David Johnston and Minister of Health Rona Ambrose.

As co-creator of the anti-bullying program, WITS, (Walk Away, Ignore, Talk it Out, Seek Help) Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater has worked tirelessly with community partners, police officers, school staff and administrators, and parents to protect children from peer violence and victimization. On December 2, 2013 Leadbeater was presented with the CIHR Partnership Award by the Governor General of Canada in recognition of her leadership of the WITS programs.

The award acknowledges the true partnership that exists between teachers, students, law enforcement and parents who want to change the culture within a community.

“It was very rewarding to have our WITS programs and partners nationally recognized after 15 years of work helping schools create safe places for children to play and learn,” said Leadbeater.

WITS began in response to the tragic death of Reena Virk. Virk was a 15 year old girl who was beaten and drowned by her peers in 1997. Her death followed several high profile youth beatings that resulted in death or severe neurological damage to other Victoria youth.

“There was this growing edge of youth violence that really concerned the police,” said Leadbeater in a media interview. WITS was initiated by a local school principal and Tom Woods, a local law enforcement officer, who after observing the WITS programs in action, started the Rock Solid Foundation, a not-for-profit group to raise funds to help BC schools use the WITS Programs. “Tom Woods had the desire and inspiration to make a difference; working with him and the Rock Solid Foundation was key to the success of the WITS programs,” said Leadbeater.

Today, through the leadership of Leadbeater and the help of PREVNet, the Rock Solid Foundation, the Red Cross and the RCMP’s National Youth Officer Program, WITS is spreading to schools across Canada–more than 500 so far. “I think it’s really made a difference in the culture of schools and our communities across Canada,” says Leadbeater. “WITS programs provide a common language to talk about bullying so getting help is the norm and the right thing to do.”

The two programs WITS and WITS LEADS have recently been adapted into French (DIRE) making the resources available to in both official languages for use by all Canadians. In British Columbia the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique has enthusiastically adopted the programs and is implementing them in many schools throughout the province. By adapting the programs into French, national organizations such as the RCMP can disseminate them across the country.

Through community partnerships, researchers have developed and evaluated the WITS programs leading to measurable, sustained reductions in bullying. Leadbeater feels the community-based research collaboration for development of the WITS programs is critical to its success.

“Working with our community partners in Victoria made the development of the WITS programs possible and highly relevant for other schools hoping to address bullying and peer victimization,” says Leadbeater.

Leadbeater and the WITS partnership team will continue to bring the anti-bullying program into more Canadian schools, train RCMP officers and community partners and evaluate the program in French and English. Leadbeater hopes that the WITS program can become self-supporting and eventually be introduced to US schools and overseas.

For more information about WITS and WITS LEADS and the French adaptation of the programs visit www.witsprogram.ca