I wanted to bring you an inspiring story about a mother who had to deal with both of her sons suffering at the hands of school bullies. This mother didn’t just sit and watch, she took action. Now she has a nomination to be Tesco Mum of the Year.
Seeing her sons become victims at the hands of school bullies was more than Michele Fudge could bear. The constant physical and psychological abuse which saw the family forced to move house and her youngest son suffer an eating disorder at the age of ten and even consider suicide, made her determined to change the system.
She decided to take action, not just for her own sons but for all victims of bullying, by setting up Silent Voice in 2006, a charity which helps victims and their families but also campaigns for changes to legislation. Now she has been shortlisted for the Tesco Mum of the Year award, nominated by her youngest son Scott, now 24.
“Children are dying at the hands of children because of bullying and that has got to stop,” says the 53-year-old mother-of-three from Rotherham. The more she discovered about how the victims of bullying were being treated the more angry she became. Children are being given powerful drugs just to calm them down enough to get through the school gates and that is wrong. They are developing eating disorders, OCD, anxiety and being labelled as having mental health problems which can affect them for the rest of their lives, but no one is associating that with the fact they have been bullied.”
One of Michele’s major achievements, she says, has been to get the Government to change its No Blame policy when it comes to bullying. “I met David Cameron and Michael Gove when they were in opposition and asked them if they would get rid of the No Blame policy when they were in power and they agreed. And they have stuck to their word.”
A “no blame” policy means that victims and perpetrators of bullying were brought together and told that no one is to blame for what has happened but that they need to work it out.
“Bullies have to be held accountable for their actions. I would like to see a system where the parents of bullies are informed about what is happening and are made to work with the school to ensure it stops,” says Michele.
Steven was just seven when he was first bullied at a school. When the school failed to take action, the Fudges decided their only course of action was to move house so that Steven could attend a different school away from the bullies and their friends. But when Scott was a similar age he too became a victim of the bullies.
“I was bullied because of the colour of my hair to start with, but if I hadn’t been ginger it would have been something else,” says Scott. The physical and mental bullying became so bad, and Michele felt the school hadn’t taken enough action, that she took her son out of school.
“We didn’t have a choice,” she says. Scott was suffering from bulimia, the bullies had knocked his self-esteem and he became very low. He spent six months out of education, but Michele couldn’t get any funding to help educate Scott. “The money stays at the school even if the child isn’t there. I think that is wrong. It should follow the child and be given to charities that help educate them when they aren’t in school. It would also give an incentive for the schools to sort the problems out and get the bullied children back into school.”
Scott says the support of his mum and strong friendships have helped him come through the worst of the effects of bullying, but he still gets low if he thinks about what happened to him. “I think I am quite a strong person and I realised that it wasn’t my fault that I was being bullied, but it is hard when you are going through it to see light at the end of the tunnel. But what bullied people – it’s not just children – need to remember is their own sense of identity – they mustn’t let the bullies steal that. At one stage because I was bullied because I was ginger I dyed my hair black. But I soon realised how important it was for me to be me and that’s my advice to anyone who finds themselves a victim.”
Scott nominated his mum for the Tesco Mum of the Year Awards, not only because he felt she deserved it, but because he wanted to raise the profile of bullying. “Bullying, and the severe effects it can have on someone’s health, just aren’t talked about enough,” he says. “I want there to be open, frank and honest discussions in schools and with parents and at Government level about what is happening before more children take their own lives,” says Scott who, despite the bullies’ best attempts, has since gone on to gain an honours degree in Public Health Nutrition from Sheffield Hallam University.
Michele says she had no idea Scott had nominated her for the award which will be announced in the New Year. “When the lady rang me from Tesco I thought she was trying to sell me insurance or it was something to do with my Clubcard. But then she explained that I had been nominated for Mum of the Year and I couldn’t believe it. It would be lovely to win, but it isn’t just about me, it is about the victims of bullying and the action that must be taken to make due that children stop killing children.”
Michele also wants to see an end to parents being prosecuted because their children are truanting due to being bullied. “We’ve had parents outside courtrooms in Doncaster for truanting. Every single person was bullied. It was on their records,” says Michele. “Some families are hauled back into court time and time again. Legal aid was stopped by the last government for education cases like this and that means that children are once again being punished. ”
She says that the money spent on those prosecutions could be better used by charities such Lifewise or In2Change, a charity that helps the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners by involving them in running courses on all sorts of issues, including bullying.
She is a big fan of work that is being done by the Lifewise Centre in Hellaby, Rotherham and the Crucial Crew education programme that was set up by the police and fire services and other organisations. South Yorkshire schools can take children to the centre, which has life-sized street scenes in it used to enact scenarios, to learn about all aspects of safety. Online bullying can be tackled using the centre’s computer suite.
“I would like David Cameron to come up to South Yorkshire to see the work that is being done here. Any anti-bullying work needs to be undertaken by people the children, especially the bullies, relate to and will listen to. We need to take action and we need to take it quickly before more children are driven to take their own lives.”