It was a tragedy that unfolded New Year’s Eve, when a 13-year-old died of emaciation in Norway.
But the story begins years earlier. In 2012, the girl’s mother went on television to talk about the bullying her child faced because of her eating disorder. The school had been informed but did little to address the issue, parents said. The girl changed schools but faced the same kids in middle school. The bullying got to the girl, her parents said, and intensified her mental illness.
The circumstances of the teen’s death are being investigated, and her mother has been arrested for neglect. But officials say bullying may have been at least partially to blame.
And the incident has sparked a national conversation on bullying. Norway Education Minister Torbjorn Roe Isaksen suggested that more bullies should be transferred to new schools. “It is a familiar pattern that it is often the bullying victim that ends up switching schools. I think that is a mistake,” he told the Local.
Oslo has its own solution – the city has appointed a bullying ombudsman. In that role, Kjerstin Owren will work with the city’s day-cares and public schools. In that position, she’ll oversee more than 80,000 students. She’ll work directly with schools on their bullying-prevention programs, and she’ll also serve as a resource for parents who feel like their children’s institution isn’t doing enough, and offer counseling to individual kids.
“We came to the conclusion that most of the work carried out by the bullying ombud officials involved ongoing training in the area. But there was a desire to begin preventive work much earlier, as early as day care. And that it lasts for the entire school career,” researcher Christine Hvitsand, who helped develop the idea of an ombudsman, told the Local. “Good social environments start as early as in day care, and this is where good environments are established that lead to good learning environments later on.”