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
1Institute 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
3Green 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.

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