The study focuses on understanding the impacts of animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) on adolescents with severe psychosocial and educational challenges at an internationally recognized residential treatment facility. Specifically, the study will contribute to nuanced understanding of the impacts of these interventions within the context of positive youth development (PYD), thereby situating AAIs within a standard and widely used child development theory.
The objective is to better understand the impacts of the AAI programs on student outcomes from the perspectives of the students who regularly participate in them. Ultimately, combining the findings of the proposed qualitative study with the findings from an array of other qualitative and quantitative studies underway at this site is anticipated to create a detailed and nuanced understanding of the impacts of these programs on student outcomes within a complex mental health treatment and special education environment.
The general hypothesis is that the incorporation of AAIs at a residential treatment and special education facility for youth with severe psychosocial challenges will positively impact their outcomes as operationalized within the PYD framework..
Located in Brewster, NY, Green Chimneys (GC) is a youth residential treatment and special education school that incorporates farm animal-, equine-, canine- and wildlife-based AAIs throughout its nature-based program. The proposed study utilizes a qualitative design to analyze 20 semi-structured interviews with GC students. The goal is to combine findings from these interviews with those from previous qualitative interviews that were conducted with GC staff to gather contextually rich information from multiple, unique perspectives on how the AAIs impact student self-regulation skills and PYD. Coding will be conducted using a phenomenological approach that will allow themes to emerge directly from the data and a qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis (QIMS) method to compare student perspectives to a variety of staff perspectives.
The proposed study will identify perceptions among students regarding how the AAIs affect their experiences and clinical outcomes. The findings will contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the individual- and theory-based perceptions of the mechanisms of action that affect these outcomes.