The American Humane Association today officially launched an innovative new program that encourages and guides child welfare professionals on how to incorporate therapy animals into sessions with children who have been abused or neglected or who have witnessed violence. When children have suffered trauma, it is often difficult for them to speak of their experiences. Incorporating a therapy animal into the process can help a child open up and promote the healing process.
The new program is called "Therapy Animals Supporting Kids (TASK)(TM)." It was created by Allie Phillips, J.D., vice president of American Humane's Public Policy Office and a former prosecuting attorney, and Diana McQuarrie, director of animal-assisted interventions for American Humane and a certified therapy-animal handler. They worked in cooperation with Delta Society(R) and top child protection professionals to produce the program. TASK was unveiled at the 21st Annual Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas, which is considered the largest child abuse conference in the United States.
"As a former prosecutor, I understand the importance of helping children feel comfortable when disclosing and testifying about abuse or trauma," said co-author Phillips. "Therapy animals provide that comfort and security. The TASK manual was written to help professionals understand this important dynamic that can help a child through the daunting court process."
American Humane has long acknowledged the power of the human-animal bond, and currently trains and provides registered therapy animals to help people in need, especially children who have been abused or neglected or have witnessed trauma to others. To further support and advance this work, American Humane developed the new TASK national initiative.
It is widely accepted that therapy animals can help individuals who have suffered physical or emotional trauma, but TASK takes this concept one step further. The TASK Program provides guidance to child welfare professionals, attorneys and prosecutors, child protection workers, social workers, police officers, and any other professionals who work with children who have been maltreated and could benefit from involvement with therapy animals.
The centerpiece of the new program is the new TASK Program Manual, a publication that merges two important areas of expertise: first, the practical issues involved with setting up an animal-assisted therapy program and safely working with therapy animals; and second, the legal implications of effectively incorporating therapy animals into work with children, which often entails a difficult court process. The manual identifies six situations for incorporating therapy animals into work helping traumatized children, and thoroughly details the benefits, drawbacks and potential legal ramifications involved with each type of situation. These situations are:
-- Greeting children (at a children's advocacy center or other agency
-- Forensic interview or evaluation
-- Medical examination
-- Individual or group therapy
-- Court preparation
-- Courtroom testimony
The manual features children's advocacy centers and prosecutors' offices that currently incorporate therapy animals to assist children.
More about the program and a downloadable copy of the TASK Manual are available online at www.americanhumane.org/task .
The TASK Manual was peer-reviewed by nationally recognized leaders in child protection and animal-assisted therapy, as well as agencies that have effectively incorporated therapy animals into programs to benefit child victims and witnesses.
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