Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) in educational and other settings have steadily increased over the last fifty years and a steep rise in AAI has been observed in many countries and settings in recent years. Surprisingly, while different providers and organisations provide a range of guidelines, no unified, standardised guidelines or risk assessment tools for AAI exist. This means that in practice AAI takes place in an unregulated manner and without a gold standard of best practice. In addition, knowledge of which interventions are effective is still scarce and the mechanisms of successful interventions are not yet fully understood. This is partly due to AAI being a relatively new research field and standards of research and practice have often lacked rigour in the past. Furthermore, knowledge and experience of providers undertaking interventions varies greatly as there is no standardised training either. We address the striking lack of standardised guidelines and procedures. In all AAI, high importance should be placed on safety and welfare of all involved. Children and other AAI participants, staff and animals should be given equal consideration when assessing risks and welfare needs. To ensure safe AAI worldwide, we provide urgently needed guidelines on best practice in relation to risk assessment, safeguarding and animal welfare priorities. The guidelines were developed for a large-scale longitudinal, randomised controlled trial AAI project and are relevant to AAIs within educational and other settings. We also provide the first set of comprehensive risk assessment and animal welfare tools to achieve consistent welfare and safety standards for best practice across educational and other settings around the world.
Brelsford, V. L., Dimolareva, M., Gee, N., & Meints, K. (2020). Best Practice Standards in Animal-Assisted Interventions: How the LEAD Risk Assessment Tool Can Help. Animals, 10(6), 974.
How Animals Help Students Learn summarizes what we know about the impact of animals in education and synthesizes the thinking of prominent leaders in research and practice. It’s a much-needed resource for mental-health and education professionals interested in incorporating animals in school-based environments, one that evaluates the efficacy of existing programs and helps move the field toward evidence-based practice. Experts from around the world provide concrete examples of how animals have been successfully incorporated into classroom settings to achieve the highest level of benefit while also ensuring the health and welfare of the students and animals involved.
Meints, K., Brelsford, V., Gee, N., & Fine, A. (2017) Animals in education settings. In: How animals help students learn: research and practice for educators and mental health professionals. Routledge, New York, pp. 12-26. ISBN 9781138648647
Childhood and adolescence are important developmental phases which influence health and well-being across the life span. Social relationships are fundamental to child and adolescent development; yet studies have been limited to children’s relationships with other humans. This paper provides an evidence review for the potential associations between pet ownership and emotional; behavioural; cognitive; educational and social developmental outcomes. As the field is in the early stages; a broad set of inclusion criteria was applied. A systematic search of databases and grey literature sources found twenty-two studies meeting selection criteria. The review found evidence for an association between pet ownership and a wide range of emotional health benefits from childhood pet ownership; particularly for self-esteem and loneliness. The findings regarding childhood anxiety and depression were inconclusive. Studies also showed evidence of an association between pet ownership and educational and cognitive benefits; for example, in perspective-taking abilities and intellectual development. Evidence on behavioural development was unclear due to a lack of high quality research. Studies on pet ownership and social development provided evidence for an association with increased social competence; social networks; social interaction and social play behaviour. Overall, pet ownership and the significance of children’s bonds with companion animals have been underexplored; there is a shortage of high quality and longitudinal studies in all outcomes. Prospective studies that control for a wide range of confounders are required.
Purewal, R., Christley, R., Kordas, K., Joinson, C., Meints, K., Gee, N., & Westgarth, C. (2017). Companion animals and child/adolescent development: a systematic review of the evidence. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(3), 234.
The inclusion of animals in educational practice is becoming increasingly popular, but it is unclear how solid the evidence for this type of intervention is. The aim of this systematic review is to scrutinise the empirical research literature relating to animal-assisted interventions conducted in educational settings. The review included 25 papers; 21 from peer-reviewed journals and 4 obtained using grey literature databases. Most studies reported significant benefits of animal-assisted interventions in the school setting. Despite this, studies vary greatly in methods and design, in intervention types, measures, and sample sizes, and in the length of time exposed to an animal. Furthermore, a worrying lack of reference to risk assessment and animal welfare must be highlighted. Taken together, the results of this review show promising findings and emerging evidence suggestive of potential benefits related to animals in school settings. The review also indicates the need for a larger and more robust evidence base driven by thorough and strict protocols. The review further emphasises the need for safeguarding for all involved—welfare and safety are paramount.
Brelsford, V., Meints, K., Gee, N., & Pfeffer, K. (2017). Animal-assisted interventions in the classroom—A systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(7), 669.
The collection of salivary cortisol has been chosen as one of the least intrusive, easiest to collect, analyze, and store methods of obtaining information on physiological changes. It is, however, not clear what the best practice is when collecting salivary cortisol from children within the school setting. The aim of this systematic review is to evaluate the feasibility of cortisol collection in schools for future research and to make recommendations for best practice. The review included 25 peer-reviewed articles from seven databases. The hypotheses of the included studies vary, but they all use cortisol as a diurnal, baseline, or acute measure, or to measure the effect of an intervention. Two methods of salivary cortisol collection were preferred by most of the research, i.e., passive drool or cotton Salivettes. The review has concluded that cortisol is a physiological marker that can be successfully measured in school-based research. However, there are discrepancies across studies when evaluating the collection guidelines, protocols, and instructions to participants as well as transparency of the success rate of obtaining all samples. Recommendations are made for future research to address and avoid such discrepancies and improve cross-study comparisons by implementing standard protocol guidelines.
Dimolareva, M., Gee, N., Pfeffer, K., Maréchal, L., Pennington, K., & Meints, K. (2018). Measuring Cortisol in the Classroom with School-Aged Children—A Systematic Review and Recommendations. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(5), 1025.