Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16207 1. Effects of the KiVa Anti-Bullying Program On Victimization, Depression, Anxiety, and Perception of Peers Among Finnish Elementary School Children

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 10:00 AM
Cabin John (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Anne Williford, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Aaron Boulton, PhD Student, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Brian Noland, PhD Candidate, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Todd Little, PhD, Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Antti Kärnä, PhD Candidate, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
Christina Salmivalli, PhD, Professor, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
Purpose: The purpose of this investigation is to evaluate with rigorous methods an innovative anti-bullying program recently developed and tested in Finland. The KiVa program is predicated on the notion that bullying is a group process in which the bully behaves aggressively to attain a higher peer-group status and is continually reinforced by the apathy/encouragement of onlookers. KiVa is based on the fact that positive changes in the behaviors of peers reduce the rewards gained by bullies and consequently their motivation to bully. KiVa focuses on enhancing the empathy, self-efficacy, and anti-bullying attitudes of onlookers, who are neither bullies nor victims, thereby breaking the cycle of bullying. This approach is based on sound evidence relating these bystander characteristics to defending and supporting victimized peers. Ultimately, enhancing bystanders' abilities to defend and support victims creates a positive peer culture, opportunities for prosocial behavior, and over time encourages positive youth development (PYD). KiVa includes 20 hours of dedicated curricula targeted toward increasing anti-bullying attitudes in classrooms as well as defending behaviors and self-efficacy among bystanders. Lessons involve activities such as class discussions, group work, short films about bullying, role-playing exercises, and a five-level interactive computer game. KiVa also includes an indicated intervention component to address acute cases of bullying. Two primary research questions guided this investigation: 1) Are there mean level differences in rates of peer victimization between students receiving the intervention and those who are not?; 2) Can reductions in peer-reported victimization predict improvement in students' anxiety/depression levels as well as their peer perceptions?

Methods: Study participants included 7,741 4th – 6th grade students (50.6 % were girls; average age was 11.2 years) from 78 schools who were randomly assigned to either an intervention or control condition. Program effects were tested with multilevel structural equation modeling. Self- and peer-report measures were administered at baseline, 4 months following implementation, and again 9 months following implementation.

Results: A cross-lagged panel model suggested that the KiVa program is effective for reducing rates of peer-reported victimization. In the present study, rates of victimization remained stable in the control condition over time, whereas victimization declined significantly among intervention participants. Finally, changes in anxiety, depression, and positive peer perceptions were found to be predicted by reductions in victimization. Effects for the intervention participants were stronger than for those in the control condition.

Conclusions and Implications: The results suggest that the KiVa program reduced victimization in intervention schools, and may be an effective strategy for accelerating positive developmental changes. KiVa's systematic focus on the extended social context in which bullying takes place in combination with its intentional emphasis on the core components of bullying appears be an appropriate strategy for reducing victimization and promoting positive youth development. The programmatic and methodological sophistication contribute significantly to the field of prevention science and to international anti-bullying efforts. Further implications specific to social work practice are noted.

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