Bullying is a common manifestation of youth violence that negatively affects academic outcomes for victims (Flaspohler, Elfstrom, Vanderzee, Sink, & Birchmeier, 2009). A number of school-related factors are associated with bullying victimization, including negative school climate and student disconnectedness (Blitz & Lee, 2015; O’Brennan & Furlong, 2010). Bullying is also associated with family vulnerability for youth living in stressful family environments (Veenstra et al, 2005). South Korean adolescents in orphanages enter into care because of family stressors such as poverty and abuse. They may be further exposed to adversity during care in the facility, and be more susceptible to school bullying. This study compared South Korean adolescents living in institutional facilities with a national sample of South Korean youth to address the questions: 1) Do youth in institutional care experience higher bullying victimization compared to the general youth population? 2) Is bullying victimization associated with feelings of school safety and school engagement? 3) Does maltreatment moderate the relationship between bullying victimization and school variables?
Cross-sectional data from the Korean Welfare Panel Study (KoWePS) 7th wave (n=521) and a study of 170 Korean youth in orphanages were merged into one dataset (N=691). On average, participants were 14 years old (SD=2.03), and female (44.3%). Study variables were: bullying victimization (6-items); school engagement (9-items); feelings of school safety (6-items); and past year maltreatment (8-items). Higher scores indicated higher levels of all variables. Analyses included descriptive and bivariate statistics followed by four multiple regression models.
Youth in orphanages indicated less bullying victimization on average (M=1.3, SD= .2) than the national sample (M=5.46; SD=1.3). Multiple regression analyses indicated that for the full sample of youth, higher bullying victimization was a significant predictor of lower school safety (b= -.19, SE= .06, p<.05; F=42.49, p<0.001), but not school engagement. Maltreatment did not predict school safety (b=-.11, SE= .04, p< .001), but did predict lower school engagement (b= -2.84; SE= .58; p<.001). Maltreatment moderated the relationship between bullying victimization and school safety (b= .02, SE=.01, p<.05), but not bullying victimization and school engagement (b= -.02, SE= .01, p>.05).
Conclusions & Implications
Unexpectedly, youth in institutional facilities were not victims of more bullying in schools than national averages; however, the high rates of bullying reported in the national dataset indicate this remains a widespread experience in the school environment for many South Korean youth. Findings support literature indicating bullying victimization to be associated with lower sense of school safety. Particular attention to youth with maltreatment histories is warranted in efforts to improve school climate, as findings suggest that maltreated youth who are bullied are less likely to perceive their school climate to be safe. Although youth in orphanages did not report more bullying victimization, being in an orphanage significantly predicted lower school engagement, thus suggesting that these youth have unique needs related to belongingness leading to school success.