Emma-Jane Cross

Ashoka Fellow
fellow-23799-Emma-Jane Cross_headshot.jpg
United Kingdom
Fellow since 2013
This description of Emma-Jane Cross's work was prepared when Emma-Jane Cross was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013 .

Introduction

For over a decade, Emma-Jane Cross has worked throughout the UK to transform the country’s endemic culture of bullying. Having designed highly effective peer-to-peer mentoring methodologies and rolled them out into thousands of schools through the organization BeatBullying, Emma-Jane began to realize the that way to have wider impact was to bring support services online where children feel most comfortable. She has now pioneered an intervention method called Socially Mediated Support which fuses both peer-to-peer and professional counseling online, to dramatically increase the capacity for entry-level support services to be accessed by young people in need, before their problems escalate. Recognizing her solution could present a step-change for fields far beyond bullying, Emma-Jane is now working to transform how youth services and mentoring are provided across the spectrum of child wellbeing, from mental health to career development to literacy. Emma-Jane set up BeatBullying, or “the BB Group,” to house a range of online communities that already connects some 40,000 children, trained volunteers and professionals for real-time, personalized mentoring. Their support platforms are easily accessible whenever young people may need them - in school yards, in their homes or late at night - 365 days a year. Emma-Jane’s online platform then matches children to appropriate mentors along an entire scale - from highly-trained young volunteers in their own peer group to professional psychologists - depending on risk level and a child’s personal preference, giving children a voice to determine what help they receive for the first time. The BB Group team also serves as a bridge to offline support, immediately referring the most serious cases to the police and emergency services. Where most online sites leave children’s safety highly exposed, the BB Group’s technology puts safeguarding first, creating the only social networking site to be endorsed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. By engaging extensive youth networks to be part of these solutions, Emma-Jane is not only providing effective treatment to the bullied, distressed and disadvantaged, but creating a youth-led movement for social action which can rise to face the scale of today’s challenges.

The New Idea

For over a decade, Emma-Jane Cross has worked throughout the UK to transform the country’s endemic culture of bullying. Having designed highly effective peer-to-peer mentoring methodologies and rolled them out into thousands of schools through the organization BeatBullying, Emma-Jane began to realize the that way to have wider impact was to bring support services online where children feel most comfortable. She has now pioneered an intervention method called Socially Mediated Support which fuses both peer-to-peer and professional counseling online, to dramatically increase the capacity for entry-level support services to be accessed by young people in need, before their problems escalate. Recognizing her solution could present a step-change for fields far beyond bullying, Emma-Jane is now working to transform how youth services and mentoring are provided across the spectrum of child wellbeing, from mental health to career development to literacy.

Emma-Jane set up BeatBullying, or “the BB Group,” to house a range of online communities that already connects some 40,000 children, trained volunteers and professionals for real-time, personalized mentoring. Their support platforms are easily accessible whenever young people may need them - in school yards, in their homes or late at night - 365 days a year. Emma-Jane’s online platform then matches children to appropriate mentors along an entire scale - from highly-trained young volunteers in their own peer group to professional psychologists - depending on risk level and a child’s personal preference, giving children a voice to determine what help they receive for the first time. The BB Group team also serves as a bridge to offline support, immediately referring the most serious cases to the police and emergency services. Where most online sites leave children’s safety highly exposed, the BB Group’s technology puts safeguarding first, creating the only social networking site to be endorsed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. By engaging extensive youth networks to be part of these solutions, Emma-Jane is not only providing effective treatment to the bullied, distressed and disadvantaged, but creating a youth-led movement for social action which can rise to face the scale of today’s challenges.

The Problem

Despite improvements in research, diagnosis and treatment, securing the wellbeing of children is still an elusive goal. In the UK alone, depression affects almost 80,000 children and self-harm rates are the highest in Europe. Bullying has reached epidemic proportions, with almost half of young people reportedly bullied in school. One in ten children under the age of 16 suffers from a diagnosable mental health issue, but 75% of them get no professional support. Family breakdowns, violence and social exclusion are widespread, and young people are often left to fend for themselves. Children require intensive one-on-one support for a variety of psychosocial challenges, but the scale of the above problems cannot be solved by the medical system alone – there are simply not enough trained practitioners to address the problem in the current system. This resource gap is only expected to worsen in the current economic climate, with a 26% budget cut last year for youth services provided by the UK’s Department for Education. In particular, children suffering from mental distress are often unable to identify what they are experiencing and why, and keep their thoughts and feelings hidden away. The current system relies on children actively seeking help, whether through their school, their parents or online platforms. The way services are delivered acts as a deterrent: religious services in schools immediately alert children’s parents (who may be part of the problem), children have no choice in the type of support they are given, and admitting to self-harm results in getting sent home. Too often, therefore, problems are not identified and treated until a child’s wellbeing has reached a crisis point. In the online sphere, dozens of websites offer generic info-sheets and advice about mental health, bullying and abuse, but the format lacks any personalized interaction, fails to engage young people, and again relies on the assumption that children can diagnose and help themselves. Current statistics show that 12-15 year olds are increasingly online and using social media in their homes for an average of 17 hours a week. Children often turn to the anonymity and perceived safety of chat rooms and social networking sites to open up for the first time. But the peer advice offered on these forums is not provided by experts and can in fact do more harm than good; these spaces are prime targets for psychological abuse, with nearly a third of all 11-16 year olds falling victim to cyberbullying. In the 21st century, the landscape for protecting child wellbeing has been transformed, but services have failed to adapt, meaning many children fall through the cracks.

The Strategy

Emma-Jane’s vision is for every child to have access to the personalized, caring support he or she needs from others in order to thrive in the face of adversity. Her ultimate aim is to transform how entry-level support is delivered, radically increasing services’ reach and capacity using the power of the internet. To fulfill this ambition, Emma-Jane has developed a three-fold approach: massively increasing the number of trained experts available, organizing a widespread movement taking action against bullying and adapting her model into different spheres and geographies, across the spectrum of child wellbeing.Recognizing that the scale of challenges faced by children in the UK far exceeds the availability of professional resources, the first part of Emma-Jane’s strategy is to train up a generation of young mentors who become part of a bottom-up solution. Through an intensive two-day training, youths become peer mentors both online and offline in their schools where they lead lunchtime drop-in clinics. Training is delivered both free of charge and through ongoing commissioning partnerships with local councils, schools, youth groups and membership organizations, like Scouts. Young people practice mentoring each other and learn about effective communication, empathy, maintaining boundaries, mental health, and when to refer serious cases to the BB Group’s Safeguarding team. To date, over 10,000 CyberMentors, age 11-17, have been accredited to advise the bullied or excluded, thousands of trained adult volunteers are supporting this community online, and a specific “MiniMentors” programme has been rolled out to primary schools across the country, putting responsibility into the hands of children as young as nine. The training benefits not only service-users but also young volunteers themselves. The course is particularly aimed at both bullies and the bullied and has reduced bullying rates in schools with the training by an average of 40%. Over 1,000 trained young career mentors include teenagers who are themselves disempowered and unemployed. Emma-Jane aims to teach “the most unlikely young heroes in their communities” that they have the power to create positive change, whilst discovering their own skills and leadership.A key challenge to truly changing the system is maintaining and expanding the momentum behind this generation of volunteers. As the second part of her strategy, Emma-Jane has therefore launched a social action movement across society, inspiring public awareness and engaging external institutions as catalysts for change. In 2010, Emma-Jane pioneered the first-ever online march, bringing together one million supporters and 1800 schools. Enrolled participants wrote placards and created avatars, whose images paraded across hundreds of participating websites over the course of 24 hours to spark debate on bullying and generate support for key policy changes. Emma-Jane has succeeded in developing media partnerships with the most widely-read newspapers in the UK, running public campaigns on bullying and internet safety with an estimated advertising value of £20 million. This has achieved tangible outcomes from both the public and private sectors: the Department for Education has pledged over £6 million for anti-bullying work; policy changes were inputted into all of the major political parties’ agendas; large online players such as Facebookand Youtube signed up to the campaign and improved take-down times and safety information. The BB Group then leverages nation-wide reach of major telecoms companies to run campaigns and sell branded merchandise, for a sustainable income stream as well as increased credibility in the eyes of youths. Emma-Jane also works with marketing experts MediaCom and M & C Saatchi to help ensure her digital platforms are cutting-edge, accessible, and appealing for children. Crucially, they are also helping Emma-Jane and the young people she works with create a new narrative: establishing social action and changemaking as a cool, emerging norm and movement for young people. In order to embed Socially Mediated Support into existing government institutions and major children’s charities as a recognised treatment, it is important to demonstrate that online support is safe, affordable and effective compared to existing mainstream approaches. Accordingly, Emma-Jane has built into her technology platforms feedback mechanisms and surveys that track every child’s journey and wellbeing outcomes, so that each “micro-mentoring” session can build and improve on previous sessions for long-term results. To date, 72% of all mentees have improved wellbeing (according to an established measurement method for the youth sector developed by New Philanthropy Capital) after mentoring through the BeatBullying platform. The BB Group’s first digital platform launched in 2009 focussed on victims of bullying. It delivers 66,000 mentoring sessions every year, and those most at risk access 3,000 counselling sessions with professionals. Initial pilots for the BB Group’s mental health platform, MindFull, already show short-term outcomes of 44% reduction in self-harm and 24% reduction in suicidal intention, and longer-term results include 86% of users reporting improved wellbeing and a 46% increase in positive thoughts for those experiencing depression. Their platform for careers advice, FutureYou, is helping put one in four unemployed young people into education, training or employment. Emma-Jane has also brought in external evaluation by the University of Sussex, Goldsmith College, and the Department for Education. Emma-Jane is attracting partnerships with major children’s charities (Action For Children is building similar support networks for early intervention programmes for families) and state governments. In this way, she is spreading her impact by embedding the methodology she has developed into other institutions, as well as increasing the sustainability of the BB Group’s work, a key priority for Emma-Jane’s strategy. As a registered non-profit, the BB Group has evolved to now source a minority of its income from grants and fundraising. Instead, Emma-Jane has embedded diverse revenue streams - including corporate partnerships, paid contracts with some schools, and flexible charges for training and consultancy - into all areas of her core strategic work. The UK’s Department for Education was one of the first major sponsors of CyberMentors; Local Councils commission FutureYou to be offered locally; the BB Group is working with the Citizens Advice Bureau to advise them on accessible online services. Emma-Jane eventually plans to embed her model into NHS commissioning, fundamentally changing how mainstream mental health services are delivered at the entry level. To cover the full range of services provided, the BB Group is now developing safe video-conferencing as well as online groups, music and art therapy.In fact, Emma-Jane believes Socially Mediated Support can be applied effectively to almost all areas of child wellbeing. She has set out to prove the model in spheres as diverse as mental health and teaching literacy, but the BB Group alone will never have the expertise and capacity to truly change the system for child wellbeing in all areas, for example learning disabilities or youth offending. As the final part of her strategy, Emma-Jane is therefore codifying the offline methodologies and online technology platforms behind the BB Group’s model. This is so that she can share her practices widely with specialist charities, foreign governments and non-profits to spread worldwide. In order to fund this roll-out and the ongoing refinement of the methodology, the BB Group is licensing their cutting-edge social networking technology to clients and corporations, with this income contributing to free and subsidized licenses for non-profit partnerships. Emma-Jane is also starting to work through local partners to expand internationally, in Greece (where programmes are under way) and Ireland (where a local franchise is being established). She has also attained European Commission funding to roll out across nine European countries in the next five years.

The Person

Emma-Jane grew up in a close-knit coastal community in the UK. Her grandmother was a local politician and her father was a trade unionist. Emma-Jane attended a traditional Catholic school, where her younger brother was consistently bullied, including by a senior teacher. Emma-Jane’s father died unexpectedly when she was 15 years old. Upon finishing school, she turned down an opportunity to study at Oxford University and decided to stay near her family, working at a real estate agency. She thrived in this new, highly independent setting and quickly rose to the level of senior manager. Emma-Jane then finally enrolled in university at age 21 to study politics and social policy in London. Upon graduating she worked for a shadow minister, but felt a deep incongruence between the type of positive social change she wanted to create in society and the culture, power play, and even bullying she witnessed in the political sphere.Emma-Jane then embarked on Doctoral research into family violence. Her work brought her into women’s refuges where she again came face-to-face with children struggling to cope through abuse and bullying: for them, violence had become the norm inside and outside of school. Emma-Jane set out to find help for these children but could not find any appropriate services they could turn to. She became determined to fill this gap herself, making the fight against bullying her personal crusade.In order to fund this work and gain the skills that she would need for success, Emma-Jane set up a boutique consulting business for the social sector. She investigated hate crimes for the Local Council and launched a global conference on domestic violence with the Metropolitan Police. As a result of her work, the Met began tracking the number of domestic violence calls they receive in a single day – a policy that still remains in place. She then designed a programme to conduct research in rough-end schools. She spent hours running focus groups and speaking with children and young gang members, seeking to understand social dynamics and mindsets from their eyes. Through these conversations Emma-Jane developed the framework of a new youth-led bullying prevention model, and started working on this vision full-time founding BeatBullying in 2002.Emma-Jane’s father died unexpectedly when she was 15 years old. Upon finishing school, she turned down an opportunity to study at Oxford University and decided to stay near her family, working at a real estate agency. She thrived in this new, highly independent setting and quickly rose to the level of senior manager. Emma-Jane then finally enrolled in university at age 21 to study politics and social policy in London. Upon graduating she worked for a shadow minister, but felt a deep incongruence between the type of positive social change she wanted to create in society and the culture, power play, and even bullying she witnessed in the political sphere.Emma-Jane then embarked on deep research into family violence. Her work brought her into women’s refuges where she again came face to face with children struggling to cope through abuse and bullying: for them, violence had become the norm inside and outside of school. Emma-Jane set out to find help for these children but could not find any appropriate services they could turn to. She became determined to fill this gap herself, making the fight against bullying her personal crusade.In order to fund this work and gain the skills that she would need for success, Emma-Jane set up a boutique consulting business for the social sector. She investigated hate crimes for the Local Council and launched a global conference on domestic violence with the metropolitan police. As a result of her work, the Met began tracking the number of domestic violence calls they receive in a single day – a policy that still remains in place. She then designed a programme to conduct research in rough-end schools. She spent hours running focus groups and speaking with children and young gang members, seeking to understand social dynamics and mindsets from their eyes. Through these conversations Emma-Jane developed the bones of a new youth-led bullying prevention model, and started working on this vision full-time founding BeatBullying in 2002.