Statement of purpose Although all 50 states have enacted anti-bullying legislation, research is limited on the effectiveness of these laws. The goal of this study is to evaluate whether these laws prevent bullying and other forms of youth violence.
Methods/Approach We linked 1991–2017 student-level reports of youth violence collected through the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) with 1999–2017 data on codified anti-bullying policies and their amendments developed by the Public Health Law Research Center (Temple University). We employed survey-weighted logistic regression models that examined time-varying state policies to compare the annual rates at which bullying and physical fighting change over time in states with and without anti-bullying policies. The effects of specific policy components (e.g., definitions, scope, funding, training) were also individually assessed. We additionally examined one-, two-, and three- year lagged effects.
Results We observed a modestly more rapid reduction over time in the occurrences of physical fighting at school within states that enacted anti-bullying policies relative to those that did not (Ratio of Odds Ratios (ROR): 0.971, 95% CI: (0.965, 0.977)), which corresponded to a predicted 2600 fewer physical fights per million students. However, we did not observe comparable protective effects for bullying. Results for lagged effects were similar in magnitude. Effect sizes for individual policy components ranged from ROR = 0.952 to ROR = 1.035 among models corresponding to physical fighting, and ROR = 0.974 to ROR = 1.022 among those corresponding to bullying. Policies that enforced training for prevention programs had the strongest protective effect for physical fighting (ROR=0.952).
Conclusion Although anti-bullying policies overall have modest impacts on school violence, these effects are associated with reduced burden at a population-level. Policy makers may want to focus on individual components, such as requiring training for prevention programs, which may play a larger role in reducing violence outcomes.
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