Maltreated Children And Animals In The Home
This guidebook serves as a resource for court personnel, child welfare professionals, and animal protection officers, taking the position that because animal abuse is a common indicator of domestic dysfunction, it should be addressed systematically.
The guiding principle behind the recommendations made within this report states:
Animal abuse is a type of interpersonal violence; it often co-occurs with child abuse and other forms of family violence. Identifying and treating animal abuse is an important tool in protecting children from abuse and neglect, while at the same time promoting the safety and well-being of both the children and their pets.
Animals can positively affect psychological development in children by improving their cognitive abilities, teaching them empathy, supporting their self-esteem, offering opportunities to build interpersonal skills, and presenting them with opportunities to confront loss and respond to grief. Specific benefits of positive interactions between children and animals include:
- Children who form a bond with their companion animals score higher on measures of social competence and empathy (Poresky, 1990).
- Ten-year-old children who had established strong bonds with their dog had significantly higher self-esteem, as well as greater empathy (Bierer, 2001).
- Children perceive their pets as special friends, important family members, and providers of social interactions, affection, and emotional support (Triebenbacher, 1998).
- Children who had a pet during their childhood were more empathetic, more prone to enter a helping profession, and were more oriented toward social values than those without a pet (Vizek-Vidovic, Arambasic, Kerestes, Kuterovac-Jagodic, & Vlahovic-Stetic, 2001).
- Children who had increased empathy scores because of their relationship with their pets also showed greater empathy toward people (Ascione & Weber, 1996).
However, it has also been found that a connection exists between animal abuse and the maldevelopment of children. One of the first symptoms of behavior disorder is often cruelty to animals. Consequently, a framework has been developed to understand the interaction between child neglect and animal abuse early in childhood (specific guidelines are discussed in the full text of the report):
- Ask questions about care and treatment of animals
- Employ animal-focused interventions for child victims, children who abuse, and at-risk children
- Adapt law and policy to include consideration of the common bond.