Promoting a duty of care to animals among children and adolescents

This programme of work involved two three-year government funded projects on how we promote a duty of care to animals among children and adolescents.  The first three-year project focused on children, then the second project focused on adolescents.

Promoting Duty of Care to Animals among Children 

The aim of this project was to assess how a duty of care towards animals might be effectively promoted to children and young people in the UK, based on evidence relating to: 

  1. The development of children's understanding of, relationships with, and attitudes towards, animals 
  2. Approaches to facilitate positive behaviour towards animals in children and young people 

As part of the Animal Welfare Act (2006), the concept of a 'duty of care' (DOC) refers to the legal obligation of anyone responsible for an animal to take reasonable steps to ensure that the animal’s needs are met. Accordingly, they need to look after the animal’s welfare, as well as ensure that it does not suffer. 

While it makes sense to educate and instil positive values early on, we believe this is important not just for animal welfare but human well-being too. Animals play a significant role in children and young people’s lives; a role that adults may even underestimate. Yet, the ways in which children’s experience, knowledge and perceptions of their relationships with animals translate into different ways of caring for them is not well understood. Similarly, the benefits of such interactions for children and young people are not entirely clear. Our team was interested in developing this understanding in order to ascertain the types of intervention that will have the most impact, leading to improvements in animal welfare and enhanced health and well-being in young people. 

The project involved a comprehensive literature review, survey, interviews and focus group research with children, and the development and evaluation of an intervention, that was administered on our behalf by a member of the education team at the Scottish SPCA. 

Promoting Duty of Care to Animals among Adolescents 

This three-year interdisciplinary project involved two phases of research, building on our earlier project with children. The first involved a survey and interviews with adolescents to understand how they view their relationships with pets, their attitudes towards cruelty, and their knowledge of animal welfare needs. We then developed and evaluated an online animal welfare education intervention for use in secondary schools.   

Funded by DEFRA