Bullying in focus after Norway teen’s death

While police push for the mother of a dead teen to be held in remand, attention has turned to the bullying the girl faced at her school.

Bullying in focus after Norway teen's death
The girl was reportedly reunited with her tormenters at this school. Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB scanpix
Defence attorney Aasmund Olav Sandland held a four-hour long meeting with the mother being charged with gross negligence after her 13-year-old daughter was found dead from emaciation in a hut on New Year’s Eve. 
“She’s doing terrible because she lost a child. The situation becomes almost absurd when on top of that she is being charged with a serious criminal offence,” he told TV2. 
Sandland said that after the meeting at the Reinsvoll psychiatric hospital he is even more convinced that the charges against he mother are unfounded. 
“The more knowledge of the facts I get, the more pointless this becomes,” he said. 
Police have not yet spoken with the mother, as she is not seen as in good enough condition to deal with their questioning. 
The mother, who is in her 40s, was the one who called emergency services on New Year’s Eve. According to Sandland, the call occurred at around 7.30pm when the girl collapsed. The mother reportedly tried to resuscitate her daughter. 
Inland Police believe that there are sufficient grounds to suspect serious neglect on the mother’s part and that the mother both failed to help her daughter and may have attempted to destroy evidence. On Tuesday, police sent out a press release that underlined that the indictment was related to the daughter’s health. A preliminary autopsy report ruled that the girl died of emaciation. 
In addition to investigating the mother, police are also trying to determine to what degree public agencies might have known about the girl’s health problems and what was done about them. 
Record of bullying
In 2012, the mother appeared on TV2 to speak about her daughter’s eating disorders and the bullying she experienced at the Gullhaug primary school in Bærum. The mother claimed that complaints of bullying were not taken seriously. 
Municipal officials have looked in to the conditions at the school and discovered several offences. 
The school, which the girl attended until autumn 2012, had received complaints over its handling of bullying episodes. The school was also reported for violated the Education Act but the case was dropped. 
Following the 13-year-old’s death, a number of people have spoken critically about the school’s approach to bullying, but Helen Førland, who served as rector of the school while the girl attended first through third grades, said she never received bullying complaints related to the girl.
The girl fared better after switching schools in 2012, but when she began at Mølledammen junior high school in autumn 2015 she was reunited with the same students who had previously bullied her, despite promises the school made to the mother that she would not come in contact with them. 
The girl’s death has spurred a national conversation about bullying within the school system. Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen told Dagsavisen that more bullies should be transferred to new schools when other measures aren’t effective. 
“It is a familiar pattern that it is often the bullying victim that ends up switching schools. I think that is a mistake,” he said. 
“This is obviously a tragic case. We know that the mother reported bullying but we don’t know so much about how things fit together,” he added.


Oslo appoints first ‘daycare bullying ombudsman’

Oslo Municipality has appointed a permanent official to fight bullying in the Norwegian capital’s schools from daycare age upwards – the first appointment of its kind in the country.

Oslo appoints first 'daycare bullying ombudsman'
Kjerstin Owren, Oslo's new bullying ombudsman. Photo: Oslo kommune / Sturlason / NTB scanpix

Kjerstin Owren, previously a vice-principal at one of the city’s schools, was chosen from 116 applicants for the position, reports broadcaster NRK.

The position was created after trials in four different Norwegian municipalities showed that the arrangement resulted in an increased effort to reduce bullying in participating schools, according to the NRK report.

The ombudsman’s independence from the schools was also a positive factor.

Seven percent of students in one of the participating areas, Østfold, reported being bullied at school, according to a recent study carried out by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (Utdanningsdirektoratet).

“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 preventative work much earlier, as early as daycare. And that it lasts for the entire school career,” researcher Christine Hvitsand, who was involved in the evaluation of the trials, told NRK.

“Good social environments start as early as in daycare, and this is where good environments are established that lead to good learning environments later on,” she said.

Owren’s academic background is also in teaching and education.

“I hope that the reason I got the job is because I am good at communicating, particularly with children and young people. My background is also quite multidisciplinary, I have competencies in both counselling and special education,” Owren, who starts her new job in June, told the broadcaster.

The new bullying ombudsman said that she aimed to be accessible for all school students in Oslo.

“I have to be visible, I think. It must be easy for children and young people to know how they can get in touch with the bullying ombudsman, and what kind of things I can advise them on… I am working first and foremost for a good psychological and social environment,” she said.