To systematically review experimental evidence about animal-assisted therapies (AAT) for children or adolescents with or at risk for mental health conditions, we reviewed all experimental AAT studies published between 2000–2015, and compared studies by animal type, intervention, and outcomes. Methods: Studies were included if used therapeutically for children and adolescents (≤21 years) with or at risk for a mental health problem; used random assignment or a waitlist comparison/control group; and included child-specific outcome data. Of 1,535 studies, 24 met inclusion criteria. Results: Of 24 studies identified, almost half were randomized controlled trials, with 9 of 11 published in the past two years. The largest group addresses equine therapies for autism. Conclusion: Findings are generally promising for positive effects associated with equine therapies for autism and canine therapies for childhood trauma. The AAT research base is slim; a more focused research agenda is outlined.
The prevalence of mental health problems among children (ages 0 -21) in the United States remains unacceptably high and, post-COVID-19, is expected to increase dramatically. Decades of psychological knowledge about effective treatments should inform the delivery of better services. Dissemination and implementation (D&I) science has been heralded as a solution to the persistent problem of poor quality services and has, to some extent, improved our understanding of the contexts of delivery systems that implement effective practices. However, there are few studies demonstrating clear, population-level impacts of psychological interventions on children. Momentum is growing among communities, cities, states, and some federal agencies to build "health in all policies" to address broad familial, social, and economic factors known to affect children's healthy development and mental health. These health policy initiatives offer a rare opportunity to repurpose D&I science, shifting it from a primary focus on evidence-based practice implementation, to a focus on policy development and implementation to support child and family health and well-being. This shift is critical as states develop policy responses to address the health and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on already-vulnerable families. We provide a typology for building research on D&I and children's mental health policy.
Public Significance StatementThe prevalence of mental health problems among children remains unacceptably high. Communities, cities, states, and some federal agencies are building "health in all policies" initiatives that address broad familial, social, and economic factors known to affect children's healthy development. These initiatives offer a rare opportunity to repurpose D&I science and shift it from a primary focus on evidence-based practice implementation, to a focus on policy dissemination and implementation.
Standardized training and credentialing is increasingly important to states and healthcare systems. Workforce shortages in children's mental health can be addressed through training and credentialing of professional peer parents (called family peer advocates or FPAs), who deliver a range of services to caregivers. A theory-based training program for FPAs targeting skills and knowledge about childhood mental health services (Parent Empowerment Program, or PEP) was developed through a partnership among a statewide family-run organization, state policy leaders, and academic researchers. Prior studies by this team using highly-experienced family peer advocates (who were also co-developers of the training program) as trainers found improvements in knowledge about mental health services and self-efficacy. In 2010, to meet demands and scale the model, a training of trainers (TOT) model was developed to build a cohort of locally-trained FPAs to deliver PEP training. A pre/post design was used to evaluate the impact of TOT model on knowledge and self-efficacy among 318 FPAs across the state. Participants showed significant pre-post (6 month) changes in knowledge about mental health services and self-efficacy. There were no significant associations between any FPA demographic characteristics and their knowledge or self-efficacy scores. A theory-based training model for professional peer parents working in the children's mental health system can be taught to local FPAs, and it improves knowledge about the mental health system and self-efficacy. Studies that evaluate the effectiveness of different training modalities are critical to ensure that high-quality trainings are maintained.
Children stand to lose if the federal government follows through on threats to cut funding for critical safety-net programs that have long supported families and communities. Although cuts directly targeting children's mental health are a great concern, cuts to policies that support health, housing, education, and family income are equally disturbing. These less publicized proposed cuts affect children indirectly, but they have direct effects on their families and communities. The importance of these services is supported by an extensive body of social learning research that promotes collective efficacy-neighbors positively influencing each other-shown to have positive long-term effects on children's development and adult outcomes. In this article, the authors describe two federal programs that by virtue of their impact on families and communities are likely to promote collective efficacy and positively affect children's mental health; both programs are facing severe cutbacks. They suggest that states adopt a cross-system approach to promote policies and programs in general medical health, mental health, housing, education, welfare and social services, and juvenile justice systems as a viable strategy to strengthen families and communities and promote collective efficacy. The overall goal is to advance a comprehensive national mental health policy for children that enhances collaboration across systems and strengthens families and communities, which is especially critical for children living in marginalized communities.
(1) Background: Accounting for the well-being of equine partners is a responsibility of those engaged in Equine-Assisted Services (EAS). Researchers took heed of this call to action by developing an innovative way to collect data to assess the physiological indicators of stress in equine participants. The collection of saliva is considered to be a minimally invasive method of data collection and is typically performed using a cotton swab; however, in equines, the introduction of a foreign object may induce stress; (2) Methods: Researchers used a modified bit to collect pooled saliva in an effort to further reduce stress during the saliva collection process. Additionally, the collection of pooled saliva, via the bit, increases the opportunity to consider additional analyses, such as oxytocin, which is more reliable in pooled saliva than site-specific saliva captured with a swab; (3) Results: A data analysis demonstrated that ample saliva was captured using the modified bit. Observational data supported that the horses demonstrated fewer physical stress signals to the bit than to the swab. Thus, the modified bit is a feasible and valid method for equine salivary sample collection; (4) Conclusions: The results suggest that the modified bit provides a viable method to collect equine saliva and supports national calls to prioritize animal welfare analysis, specifically for horses used within EAS. Future research should enhance methodological rigor, including in the process and timing, thereby contributing to the bit’s validation.
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