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Keeping Kids Safe

Donations will help fight Internet bullying and improve welfare services for children and their families

Recent major gifts to the Faculty of Social Work will help combat Internet bullying and other forms of online child abuse and improve welfare services for children and their families.

Cyber abuse is a growing problem in Canada, as two Toronto independent schools learned last April. In a case that made national headlines, a handful of Grade 10 students posted anti-Semitic statements on an Internet message board and sent equally offensive e-mail messages to their peers at another school.

But the problem can be difficult to detect and even harder to fight because material on the Internet changes so rapidly and messages can be posted and sent anonymously. Now, with a $500,000 donation from Bell Canada, University of Toronto social work professors Faye Mishna and Robert MacFadden will investigate ways to reduce online bullying and abuse. They aim to help youth services agencies, schools and parents recognize when a child is suffering from cyber abuse and devise ways to stop the harassment. They will also work with governments and businesses to create policies to protect children online.

A $150,000 donation to the faculty from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, an American foundation with an interest in community-based problem solving, will also benefit children and their families. In partnership with community agencies, social work professor Cheryl Regehr is developing guidelines to prioritize physical, emotional, sexual and mental abuse cases to ensure that children at greatest risk receive the care they need.

Researchers will work out of U of T’s new National Institute for Evidence-Based Social Work, which aims to create treatments and interventions for social problems based on the best available research evidence. Jim Barber, dean of the Faculty of Social Work, says this emphasis will enable institute researchers to address the underlying causes of social problems, rather than respond to their symptoms. When fully operational, the institute will develop programs in four fields: children and family, diversity and social justice, gerontology, and physical and mental health.

Barber says the institute’s collaborative approach is expected to produce more cost-efficient social policies, better interventions, and, eventually, lower caseloads for front-line social workers. “We’re hopeful this approach will yield comprehensive solutions in our field,” he says.

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