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New Study to Focus on Incorporating Therapy Dogs in Legal Settings Involving Children


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Only about 15 percent of all child maltreatment cases come to the attention of authorities, according to officials from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Pet Partners.

“Among cases that do come forward, children may be reluctant to disclose traumatic experiences, particularly when those experiences involve family member perpetrators,” officials said. “Over the past decade, forensic and legal professionals have begun to incorporate dogs into their practices in an effort to build rapport and trust, and foster a warm, supportive environment for children. Despite the increase in practice, the effects of therapy dog-assisted forensic interviews have not been studied.”

HABRI and Pet Partners have awarded a grant to the University of Toledo to help boost research in this area. “Implementation of Canine-Assisted Forensic Interview with Children” will examine the effect of the presence of a therapy dog on the quantity and quality of children’s event reports.

“The overarching goal of the study is to provide evidence-based guidelines regarding how and when to incorporate therapy dogs in legal settings,” said Kamala London, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator at University of Toledo. “We expect that this study will help support therapy dog-assisted forensic interviews as a safe, affordable and widely available technique that may improve the accuracy and quality of event reports among maltreated children.”

The study will include 120 children ages six to nine, who will experience a “rich, interactive, staged event.” A week later, the children will undergo an analogue forensic interview, where exposure to Pet Partners therapy dogs will be randomly varied. Interviews will be transcribed and coded for accuracy and completeness, officials said. Using video recording, behavior during the interaction with the therapy dog, including the duration of time the child spent petting the dog, will be scored. Dr. London and co-investigator Janet Hoy-Gerlach, LISW-S, Ph.D., expect the therapy dog-assisted interviews to bolster children’s event reports, leading to increases in both quantity and quality of children’s reports.

“From countless anecdotal evidence, we know that a visit from a registered Pet Partners therapy dog can put a smile on a child’s face, no matter what they are going through,” said Annie Peters, president and CEO of Pet Partners. “Scientific research to validate the efficacy of therapy dogs in forensic interviewing has the potential to not only provide more children with much needed comfort and emotional support, but to also promote justice for such a vulnerable population.”

“This study will build upon current knowledge of the benefits of therapy dogs while looking at a unique setting, forensic interviewing, which has not yet been studied,” said Steven Feldman, HABRI executive director. “HABRI is grateful for the support of Pet Partners for this project, which has great potential to make a difference for children who have experienced maltreatment or abuse.”

 

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