Virginia Commonwealth University in the US has released a study focusing on the effects on children who witness animal abuse. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know how children’s mental health would be affected if they had already witnessed interpersonal violence in the home environment.
Lead researcher Shelby McDonald was interested to learn more about how some children are able to sustain their resilience despite an unstable situation at home; the risk factors for such children’s development; and the role played by violence inflicted on four-legged family members that are often a source of comfort for children.
The 291 ethnically diverse children who took part in the study were aged between seven and 12 years, and were identified because their mothers had called on government social support programmes over a decade. Each family had had a pet.
The young study participants answered questionnaires about whether their mothers’ partners had ever threatened to, or had, hurt the pet. Their answers led the researchers to create three categories to monitor children’s general coping skills: resilient, struggling and severe maladjustment. Children in the latter group had all experienced animal cruelty in the home.
“This study is important and suggests that the identification of animal maltreatment among families receiving intimate partner violence services has important implications for the mental health and well-being of children.”
McDonald asserts further that questions about family pets should be integrated into routine social work questionnaires used by child protective services, schools, mental health clinics, crisis hotlines and domestic violence shelters.
Category: Summer 2016