I am so sorry that Dolly has died. It did not have to happen.
Dolly’s tragic and unnecessary death has blasted into our reality the truth of what happens when the impact of bullying is more than the person can handle.
It has, for this moment at least; connected all of Australia to the everyday experiences of so many young people and children. There are countless young people and children being affected by bullying right now in the most intense way.
Words cannot express the sadness that I feel for Dolly’s parents and her family. Many years ago when I was a frontline social worker in a busy emergency department I worked with hundreds of sudden and unexpected deaths.
Parents who had to say good bye to their children were the worst moments in that role. Children are not meant to die before their parents. It is against the natural order of things. The other deaths that held the greatest pain were those families who lost their loved ones to suicide.
For Dolly’s parents they are facing both tragedies. They are facing up to every parents worst nightmare in the most extreme kind of a way. Australia is reeling. How could this happen? The truth is it can happen quite easily and if we continue to keep doing what we are doing – then we will get the same results. To prevent another child taking their life we need to do something different. We need to make a change as a nation.
As I’ve watched and seen the pain Dolly’s beloved family are experiencing it is extremely hard because I know that there are answers. It is possible to address bullying at its core so that it does not cause someone to see that taking their life is the only way out of the suffering.
I do believe I have some answers. Not some airy fairy answers that wont bring results. These are answers that are based on research; and are clinically based and draw from my 20 plus years experience as a clinician in my field. These answers are all elements of the way we work with Kindness On Purpose schools. They are so easy. Uncomplicated. And yet they bring the greatest results. I have come to understand this past week more than ever, that Kindness on Purpose will save lives.
I know that the way to address bullying is to;
1. Address WHY the teenager / child is bullying in the first place. Go beyond the programs and interventions that focus on changing the bullies behaviour and get to the nitty gritty core of why that teenager or child is bullying. Work directly with that teenager or child to address their lack of empathy (using clinical and research based interventions) and make real change with those who are engaging in bullying behaviour.
2. Change the school and community culture – not superficially but authentically so. Having a kindness day is lovely but it does not get to the core of real cultural change. Real cultural change requires a systematic approach working at all levels of the school and a whole of school approach over time. You can gain a lot of traction in the first 12 months but over three years - you will see some real and sustainable shifts in school culture.
3. For the teachers and principals who “get it”. The ones that are passionate about educating their students and know that looking after the wellbeing and helping students feel safe (ie addressing bullying) is the only way their students will have brains that feel calm enough to learn – for those teachers and principals – resource them well so they can finally address the issue of bullying in an authentically effective way. These educators are as hungry as you are for the real answers.
4. For the teachers and princpals who are not understanding quite yet. Ask your children and teenagers. They will tell you the teachers that get it and the ones that don’t. These educators need help too. They can’t understand what they don’t know as yet. These educators need help to explore their professional values and beliefs as it is those elements that determine the way they respond when bullying comes up in their school.
5. Taking schools beyond their current Student Wellbeing and Welfare/Discipline policies and creating school policy and procedures that focus upon the cultivating of the key missing ingredient – EMPATHY.
The research is clear. When you increase empathy in a school environment you decrease bullying. The answer is quite easy really. I saw this gap years ago as I worked with countless children and teenagers affected by bullying at school.
The gap was obvious and that is why I created Kindness On Purpose. And I am so passionate about its implementation across Australian schools.
If we are going to make a REAL difference then empathy is what our schools, families, communities – the world actually – needs. If we truly want to make a real difference then it will be empathy that will make that change.
If the teenagers who were bullying Dolly had been connected to more empathy then her tragic death would not have happened.
As Kindness On Purpose rolls out across Australia – I am reassured that schools ARE choosing empathy (and kindness). They are choosing to make REAL changes to the way they respond to bullies, those that are being bullied and they are proactive about embedding those empathy based responses into school policy and culture.
Knowing that Kindness On Purpose is finding its way into Australian schools gives me a small amount of relief.
Kindness on Purpose was created to ease the suffering of students so they can learn better and quite simply live well. I am a determined person and Kindness On Purpose was well on its way into schools before Dolly’s tragic passing. Her death has pushed me to a new level of determination that I did not know existed within me.
With approx. 3,600,000 students enrolled in Australian schools I won’t be satisfied until 1 million of those students are enrolled in Kindness On Purpose schools. To get real change you need a critical mass to support it.
So today, as I watched Dolly's family suffer I new target was born: 1 million students enrolled in Kindness On Purpose schools across Australia. So I better get crackin' Because together, then, we WILL make a difference.
A special message to Dolly's family: If you should read this article I want you to know that I am one of many Australians who wishes this was not happening to you. I am so very sorry for your loss. There are no words that are adequate enough. I will do my best to bring the change that is needed so that we can get a better response so that no other family has to suffer in the way you are now. I am again so sorry for your loss.
Facebook: Dolly's Dream Foundation
Katrina Cavanough MAASW BSWBSocSc is the CEO and Founder of Kindness On Purpose (KOP). Kindness On Purpose is an in school empathy based program that reduces bullying and increases emotional literacy and learning outcomes.
Katrina is an Official Ambassador for World Kindness Australia. World Kindness Australia is supported by the Prime Minster of Australia (past and present), Governor of NSW, Premier of NSW, The Federal Minister of Education and the Lord Mayor of Sydney.
Katrina Cavanough has worked extensively in the media. She is a coach on Balance By Deborah Hutton and is described as an architect of change on MariaShriver.com. She is a published author with Allen and Unwin, and has contributed to Simple Reminders - inspiration for living your best life with Bryant McGill; which became a USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestseller. Katrina's relaxation meditations for children from the Kindness On Purpose program are featured on the BBDH channel on Virgin airlines In flight entertainment and her Meditation CD for children - Happy Little Hearts is distributed internationally.
Katrina has been featured on national TV, national and international radio (SeriusXM, Hay House Radio, Voice America, OM Times Radio, 2DayFM’s, MIX106.5FM) as well as in various print and online media.
With over 22 years experience, Katrina is a management coach and clinical consultant in her field. She is an accredited mental health care social worker who is eligible to provide care under the Australian Medicare Scheme with a GP referral.
Katrina holds two university degrees (BSWBSocSc) in the field of relationships and human behavior. Katrina has worked as a Relationship Therapist, Child & Family Therapist, and Drug & Alcohol Clinician. She has worked as the Service Manager of a Forensic Drug & Alcohol Program and as a front-line social worker in a busy emergency department. These years of services have given her expertise with relationships, psychological trauma, death and grief.