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Intervention Summary

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Healing Species Violence Intervention and Compassion Education Program

The Healing Species Violence Intervention and Compassion Education Program is designed to prevent and reduce violent and aggressive tendencies among youth ages 9-14. The intervention is based on the premise that a lack of concern for the thoughts and/or feelings of others and often abusive behaviors toward animals during youth contribute to these violent and aggressive tendencies. By using animals to teach youth how to identify and practice prosocial behaviors, Healing Species aims to interrupt the escalation of aggression to violence. Specific objectives include reducing the incidence of aggression, including retaliation; increasing empathy; reducing school disciplinary infractions related to fighting; increasing the perception of harm of using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; and delaying onset of the use of these substances. Healing Species also teaches students how to prevent and identify physical and sexual abuse and how to get help when they recognize or suspect abuse (e.g., by telling a trusted adult).

The intervention is delivered in eleven 45-minute sessions by a trained instructor accompanied by a rescued dog. The instructor begins each session by sharing stories about the dog's life, which include themes of abuse, neglect, and other difficulties. These stories are designed to connect to some aspects of the participants' own lives, creating lessons in grieving, empathy, self-responsibility, sharing, cooperating, empowerment, and service to others. The dog's presence in the classroom provides youth with the opportunity to witness prosocial behavior, such as someone petting the dog; practice prosocial behavior, such as petting the dog themselves; and receive reinforcement for their behavior in the form of praise from the instructor. Participants also practice their new skills through interactive projects and service-learning activities.

The program can be implemented in schools, afterschool centers, special education centers, juvenile correctional facilities, and adolescent residential treatment facilities. Although the intervention was designed for children ages 9-14, it has been used with older teens up to age 18 in classroom-size groups, including those in juvenile correctional facilities. The study reviewed for this summary was conducted in schools with 5th- and 6th-grade students. Instructors must have a 4-year degree and participate in training.

Descriptive Information

Areas of Interest Mental health promotion
Substance abuse prevention
Outcomes Review Date: October 2011
1: Beliefs about aggression
2: Disciplinary referrals
3: Aggressive and violent behaviors
Outcome Categories Social functioning
Violence
Ages 6-12 (Childhood)
Genders Male
Female
Races/Ethnicities Black or African American
White
Race/ethnicity unspecified
Settings School
Geographic Locations Urban
Implementation History Since its inception in 2000, the intervention has been delivered to more than 23,000 youth at over 100 sites, including those in Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Washington State, and Wisconsin, as well as in New Zealand. The first evaluation of the intervention was conducted in South Carolina and involved four schools.
NIH Funding/CER Studies Partially/fully funded by National Institutes of Health: No
Evaluated in comparative effectiveness research studies: No
Adaptations The program has been modified for use with youth who are referred by juvenile justice and solicitor arbitration programs.
Adverse Effects No adverse effects, concerns, or unintended consequences were identified by the developer.
IOM Prevention Categories Universal

Quality of Research
Review Date: October 2011

Documents Reviewed

The documents below were reviewed for Quality of Research. The research point of contact can provide information regarding the studies reviewed and the availability of additional materials, including those from more recent studies that may have been conducted.

Study 1

Pearson, W. J. (2011). The Healing Species: Animal-assisted character education for improving student behavior. Journal of Youth Development: Bridging Research and Practice, 6(1).

Supplementary Materials

Sprinkle, J. E. (2008). Animals, empathy, and violence: Can animals be used to convey principles of prosocial behavior to children? Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 6(1), 47-58.

Outcomes

Outcome 1: Beliefs about aggression
Description of Measures Beliefs about aggression were assessed using the 20-item Normative Beliefs About Aggression Scale (NOBAGS), which yields a Total Aggression score as well as scores on 2 subscales: General Aggression (8 items) and Retaliation Aggression (12 items). The instrument presents hypothetical situations involving aggression and asks the respondent to rate each behavior described using a 4-point scale from 1 (really wrong) to 4 (perfectly okay). Scores for each scale were calculated as the mean of the scores for the items on that scale answered by the respondent. Lower scores indicate less acceptance of aggression as an appropriate emotional response.
Key Findings One study compared 5th- and 6th-grade students in intervention classrooms, which received the intervention in the fall semester, with their peers in wait-list control classrooms, which received the intervention in the spring semester. The instrument was administered at the beginning and end of the fall semester. Compared with the control group, the intervention group had a significant reduction in acceptance of aggression from pre- to posttest as measured by the Total Aggression score (p < .01) and Retaliation Aggression score (p < .01).
Studies Measuring Outcome Study 1
Study Designs Quasi-experimental
Quality of Research Rating 2.8 (0.0-4.0 scale)
Outcome 2: Disciplinary referrals
Description of Measures Data on student disciplinary referrals were obtained from the school district's database.
Key Findings One study compared 5th- and 6th-grade students in intervention classrooms, which received the intervention in the fall semester, with their peers in wait-list control classrooms, which received the intervention in the spring semester. Data on disciplinary referrals were tabulated for the fall semester, including a period before the intervention began, and for the spring semester. An expected pattern of rising disciplinary referrals, caused by diminishing tolerance for problem behaviors during the school year, was accounted for in the analysis. The intervention group had significantly fewer disciplinary referrals than the control group during the fall semester (p < .001) and during the entire school year (p < .001).
Studies Measuring Outcome Study 1
Study Designs Quasi-experimental
Quality of Research Rating 2.2 (0.0-4.0 scale)
Outcome 3: Aggressive and violent behaviors
Description of Measures Aggressive and violent behaviors were measured using student disciplinary data obtained from the school district's database. Infractions in the following categories were collected and summed: hitting others, fighting, simple assault, threat to student, intimidation, and threat to staff.
Key Findings One study compared 5th- and 6th-grade students in intervention classrooms, which received the intervention in the fall semester, with their peers in wait-list control classrooms, which received the intervention in the spring semester. Data on aggressive and violent behaviors were tabulated for the fall semester, including a period before the intervention began, and for the spring semester. An expected pattern of rising disciplinary referrals, caused by diminishing tolerance for problem behaviors during the school year, was accounted for in the analysis. The intervention group had significantly fewer aggressive and violent behaviors than the control group during the fall semester (p < .01) and during the entire school year (p < .001).
Studies Measuring Outcome Study 1
Study Designs Quasi-experimental
Quality of Research Rating 2.2 (0.0-4.0 scale)

Study Populations

The following populations were identified in the studies reviewed for Quality of Research.

Study Age Gender Race/Ethnicity
Study 1 6-12 (Childhood) 59.7% Female
40.3% Male
76.6% Black or African American
21.4% White
2% Race/ethnicity unspecified

Quality of Research Ratings by Criteria (0.0-4.0 scale)

External reviewers independently evaluate the Quality of Research for an intervention's reported results using six criteria:

  1. Reliability of measures
  2. Validity of measures
  3. Intervention fidelity
  4. Missing data and attrition
  5. Potential confounding variables
  6. Appropriateness of analysis

For more information about these criteria and the meaning of the ratings, see Quality of Research.

Outcome Reliability
of Measures
Validity
of Measures
Fidelity Missing
Data/Attrition
Confounding
Variables
Data
Analysis
Overall
Rating
1: Beliefs about aggression 3.3 3.3 2.0 2.5 2.0 3.5 2.8
2: Disciplinary referrals 1.5 2.0 2.0 2.5 2.0 3.0 2.2
3: Aggressive and violent behaviors 1.5 2.0 2.0 2.5 2.0 3.0 2.2

Study Strengths

The Normative Beliefs About Aggression Scale, normed on urban elementary school student populations, has good psychometric properties. The complete sequence of 11 lessons was completed in the intervention classrooms. To enhance fidelity, lesson-specific checklists were completed by trained observers during each session, and the information gathered was used for instructor development during one-on-one reviews and staff meetings. Attrition from pre- to posttest was reasonable. Although classrooms were not randomly assigned to condition, the researchers established baseline equivalence on the outcomes of interest.

Study Weaknesses

Data on disciplinary referrals were collected from school district records, which are generally reliable but subject to variations in the completeness of reporting among schools. Although fidelity procedures were established, specific fidelity data were not reported. Data on disciplinary referrals for students who did not complete the program would have been available but were not reported. Students were not randomly assigned to study groups in order to maintain intact classroom units, but the pattern of assignment by classroom likely did not introduce any systematic bias. Only two schools were included in the study, and the number of classrooms per school was not reported.

Readiness for Dissemination
Review Date: October 2011

Materials Reviewed

The materials below were reviewed for Readiness for Dissemination. The implementation point of contact can provide information regarding implementation of the intervention and the availability of additional, updated, or new materials.

Goodman, K. (Producer), & Simon, K. (Director). (1990). Chimps like us: Featuring Dr. Jane Goodall [Documentary]. United States: Direct Cinema Limited.

The Healing Species, Inc. (2010). Compassion education and violence intervention curriculum manual. Orangeburg, SC: Author.

The Healing Species, Inc. (2010). Director policy and procedures manual. Orangeburg, SC: Author.

The Healing Species, Inc. (2010). Implementer policies and procedures training manual. Orangeburg, SC: Author.

The Healing Species, Inc. (n.d.). Employee handbook. Orangeburg, SC: Author.

Healing Species Inquiry Response Packet

Program Web site, http://www.healingspecies.org

Thompson, C. B. (2001). I can be. Orangeburg, SC: The Healing Species.

Readiness for Dissemination Ratings by Criteria (0.0-4.0 scale)

External reviewers independently evaluate the intervention's Readiness for Dissemination using three criteria:

  1. Availability of implementation materials
  2. Availability of training and support resources
  3. Availability of quality assurance procedures

For more information about these criteria and the meaning of the ratings, see Readiness for Dissemination.

Implementation
Materials
Training and Support
Resources
Quality Assurance
Procedures
Overall
Rating
3.0 3.4 3.4 3.3

Dissemination Strengths

Guidance on how to acquire materials and training and initiate implementation is detailed and comprehensive. An employee handbook that describes personnel policies and procedures is included. Online resources give new implementers access to valuable information that supports program implementation. Training is available for groups interested in forming a licensed chapter, a process that supports program fidelity. Training materials are clear and easy to follow. Licensed chapters must provide monthly reports to the developer so implementation quality and fidelity can be monitored. Pre- and posttests that evaluate program implementation are also included.

Dissemination Weaknesses

The collection of implementation materials is not well organized. The curriculum manual includes some items without a clear explanation of their application. The training manual provides only brief descriptions of the curriculum-driven program sessions, and it is not clear how the manual is used in the training process. Little written guidance is provided on how to enhance quality assurance other than using the included checklists or on how to use data to improve program quality.

Costs

The cost information below was provided by the developer. Although this cost information may have been updated by the developer since the time of review, it may not reflect the current costs or availability of items (including newly developed or discontinued items). The implementation point of contact can provide current information and discuss implementation requirements.

Item Description Cost Required by Developer
Direct services at the school/site provided by an active chapter if one is nearby (includes visits to school/site by trained instructor and rescued dog as well as assistance in securing funding for the program, such as support in preparing grant applications) $12,000 per school per semester for up to 250 students (or 12 classes) Yes, direct services or one training option is required
Off-site training in South Carolina provided by the founding Healing Species chapter to form a licensed chapter that can implement direct services (includes curriculum, DVDs, handouts, other training materials, email and phone support, and resource CD) $2,500 for first person and $199 for each additional person, plus $250 nonrefundable deposit Yes, direct services or one training option is required
On-site training provided by the founding Healing Species chapter to form a licensed chapter that can implement direct services (includes curriculum, DVDs, handouts, other training materials, email and phone support, and resource CD) $3,500 for up to 10 people and $199 for each additional person, plus travel expenses and $500 nonrefundable deposit Yes, direct services or one training option is required
Additional on- or off-site training provided by the founding Healing Species chapter Contact the developer No
Annual renewal fee starting 2 years after training (includes continued usage rights of copyrighted and trademarked name, logo, curriculum, and associated program materials, as well as material updates and email and phone support from the founding Healing Species chapter) $800 per year Yes, if a training option is selected

Additional Information

The founding Healing Species chapter offers training using several techniques (i.e., practice-teach sessions, hands-on training, classroom observation). All training options are always available, with requirements dependent on logistical considerations and the organization's proficiency. For detailed information about the training options, contact the developer. The annual renewal fee may be reduced or waived for organizations with very limited funding.

Replications

Selected citations are presented below. An asterisk indicates that the document was reviewed for Quality of Research.

* Pearson, W. J. (2011). The Healing Species: Animal-assisted character education for improving student behavior. Journal of Youth Development, 6(1).

Sprinkle, J. E. (2008). Animals, empathy, and violence: Can animals be used to convey principles of prosocial behavior to children? Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 6(1), 47-58.

Contact Information

To learn more about implementation, contact:
Cheri Brown Thompson, J.D.
(803) 535-6543
cheri@healingspecies.org

To learn more about research, contact:
Wanda J. Pearson, M.A.
(803) 772-8985
wpearson@grantmaster.org

Consider these Questions to Ask (PDF, 54KB) as you explore the possible use of this intervention.

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