Nourishing Hearts

 Best Practice Suggestions for AAT with Children and Youth

Julie Casey MSW, RSW

Wellness Care Farm

The following practices and guidelines were published by Melson & Fine (2010) in the Handbook on Animal-Assisted Interventions. They incorporate the theoretical basis for AAT as well as the authors’ practice-based experience.

Best Practices in AAT:

  • Take into account individual differences such as:
    • Therapy animal (e.g. must match the animal to the child’s needs)
    • Child and family (some children and family members will not respond well to animals, the more comfortable the child and family are with animals the more likely AAT will have positive effects)
    • Therapist (education, level of training, enthusiasm for AAT will all likely effect AAT outcomes)

Best Practice Guidelines:

  • Match the animal to the child’s needs
  • Integrate the animal experience with the therapeutic goals for the child
  • Understand the complex dynamic of therapist, child and animal
  • Explore the role of family animals and other family members
  • Be sensitive to potential for child aggression or harm toward animals
  • Consider animal experiences broadly; include animal representations (puppetry, books, stories, toys, stuffed animals, art) as appropriate
  • Make animal welfare and child welfare paramount at all times
  • Take cultural attitudes and family history with animals into account
  • Consider which children may be contra-indicated for AAT and which might benefit from it. 

The Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health: Animal Assisted Therapy full report.