Human-Animal-Environment Interactions and Self-Regulation in Youth with Psychosocial Challenges: Initial Assessment of the Green Chimneys Model

Erin Flynn1, Megan K. Mueller2, Denise Luft3, G. John Geldhof4, Steve Klee3, Philip Tedeschi1, and Kevin N. Morris1

1 Institute for Human-Animal Connection, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver
2 Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction, Department of Clinical Sciences, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University
3 Green Chimneys Children’s Services
4 Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University

As animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) become increasingly popular in youth-based settings, there is a significant need for robust, theoretically-predicated programs and assessment frameworks. Ample evidence suggests that AAIs and nature-based interventions have broad emotional, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes. Because these interventions are associated with the regulation of stress, distress, and arousal, it is clear that self-regulatory processes are an important mechanism associated with these interventions. We hypothesize that human-animal-environment interventions (HAEI), such as those delivered within the Green Chimneys model, contribute to the development of self-regulation skills. Green Chimneys is a New York State private school serving students with psychosocial challenges and special educational needs. This study explored the hypothesis that Green Chimneys’ use of a wide variety of HAEIs (e.g., equine, farm animal, wildlife and canine programs) may be linked to self-regulatory processes. We used student restraint data as an indicator of self-regulation, comparing the prevalence of restraint incidents in the HAEI-settings compared to other contexts on campus. Results indicated that the rates of restraint were considerably lower for the farm as compared to the school/classroom, structured/non-academic activities (e.g., gym), and unstructured non-academic (e.g., cafeteria) activities. These results provide support for the hypothesis that the HAEI settings may assist in promoting positive self-regulatory behaviors.

Keywords: animal-assisted intervention, human-animal-environment interaction, self-regulation, special education, residential treatment

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kevin N. Morris, Institute for Human-Animal Connection, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, Denver, CO. Email: kevin.morris@du.edu, Phone: (303) 871-2235

Funding for the study was provided through a grant to the PI by the Green Chimneys Board of Directors for research aimed at measuring the impacts of the Green Chimneys’ HAEI program on student outcomes. The grant contract includes a statement that the PI has full authority to publish both positive and negative findings with regard to the impacts of these programs.