The event brought together over 150 professionals who work with young people and animals, mental health teams, the NHS, Police Scotland and many more. The audience learned about the significance of behaviours that cause concern, how reports of cruelty can play an important role in assessments of children experiencing difficulties, and how animal cruelty might be an indicator of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as domestic abuse.
Along with experts from the Scottish SPCA and the University of Edinburgh, speakers at the event included CEO of WAVE Trust, George Hosking OBE, the Dog’s Trust Veterinary and Campaigns Director, Paula Boyden and Director of the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education, Professor Cathy Dwyer. The guest keynote speaker was educator, author and co-founder of the USA National Link Coalition, Phil Arkow.
University of Edinburgh Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology, at the department of Clinical and Health Psychology Jo Williams said, “Childhood animal cruelty is an important indicator of childhood difficulties and we need to take a trauma-informed approach to supporting vulnerable children and reducing cruelty.
“The conference highlighted animal cruelty as a cross-profession societal issue. We need to focus on what we can all do within our professions to promote both animal welfare and young people’s health, safety and development.”
Scottish SPCA head of education and policy Gilly Mendes Ferreira said, “We were proud to have been able to hold this event in partnership with the University of Edinburgh with an incredible group of guest speakers and it further cements the Scottish SPCA as a leading voice in highlighting the link between cruelty towards animals and violent behaviour towards humans.
“George Hosking discussed the 70/30 strategy, a UK wide campaign which aims to reduce the amount of children experiencing ACEs by 70 percent by 2030. Cathy Dwyer focused on the work of the Jeanne Marchig International Centre which aims to improve animal quality of life through veterinary education in the UK and overseas. Our keynote speaker Phil Arkow is co-founder of the National Link Coalition, the national resource centre on the link between animal abuse and human violence in the United States.
“Decades of experience has taught the Scottish SPCA that education is pivotal to tackling animal cruelty in young people. Our pioneering Animal Guardians programme, which launched last year, and is proving successful, works with children across much of Scotland who have displayed behaviours that cause concern. Referrals to the programme can be made by professionals such as NHS CAMHS teams, social workers, police, doctors or practitioners in children’s charities but also teachers, parents and carers.
“The programme aims to nurture children’s empathy and compassionate behaviour towards animals, and in turn humans, and is very much focused on the child having fun and being engaged with lots of activities that looks at animal emotions, needs and responsibilities.
“Working together to tackle animal cruelty in children is key. We all have a role to play. By sharing the knowledge we have, Scotland can pave the way as a role model for other countries.”
A summary document of the conference with the key actions will be available over the coming months.