Problem and abused kids are on the rise and need help from many quarters, not just professional, to turn their lives around, and animals can and do play a therapeutic role to this end, according to an American expert in the field.
To address the growing number of abused and delinquent children, the government has been hiring more staff at welfare facilities.
But according to Samuel Ross, that is not enough.
“When (troubled) children are around animals, we see fewer discipline problems. We see more active interest in learning. We see them socializing with one another” Ross, founder of the Green Chimneys juvenile rehabilitation center in Brewster, N.Y., said in an interview last month in Tokyo, where he lectured on his group’s activities.
Green Chimneys, founded in 1947, operates a 150-acre farm “campus” 100 km north of New York City that offers animal-assisted educational and therapeutic programs to emotionally disturbed and learning disabled children and young adults, including those with a history of being abused and those whose parents are alcoholic.
Currently, the farm is providing care to 102 live-in charges between the ages of 5 and 21 and 80 others who attend a special school at the center.
Because Green Chimneys began as a social service arm of New York state in 1974, most of the people entrusted to its care have been referred from psychiatric hospitals and social services departments in neighboring communities.
“They have grown up thinking that they are total failures. These are children . . . who show all types of behavioral problems,” Ross said. “We try to turn that around.”
The charges who live at the farm take care of various animals, from the standard farm varieties to injured birds and leader dogs for blind people.
There are 200 to 300 animals, ranging from horses and deer to chickens and other birds, at the farm.
Activities help the charges learn to accept responsibility and gain confidence that they can help others, Ross said, noting that it takes roughly two years to help someone achieve a normal life.
With its reputation for beneficial juvenile rehabilitation programs, about 20,000 children and adults from around the world, including 20 to 40 Japanese, visit the center annually, he said. Three to five of the Japanese participate in general internship programs, according to the organization.
To manage the vast farm and other welfare facilities, Green Chimneys receives funds from local governments that cover about 90 percent of its running costs. The remainder is covered by donations from individuals and corporations.
Miyako Kinoshita, an equine program director at Green Chimneys, said the animal-assisted activities would be effective therapy for troubled Japanese children if programs are well-planned and specialists from various fields are available.
At Green Chimneys, some 500 employees, including medical experts, veterinarians, psychologists, social workers, animal behaviorists and teachers, care for the charges and the animals.
“One of the greatest things about animals is that they are nonjudgmental,” Kinoshita said in an e-mail. “So I believe that they will be the same way in Japan as they are here if they . . . are carefully selected and trained.”
In Japan, animal-assisted therapy and activities have been promoted by veterinarians since 1986. But the implementation of such programs is limited, due to the lack of general education about the effects of human-animal interaction, according to veterinarian Gen Kato, chairman of the nonprofit organization Japan Human Animal Bond Society, which provides education on human-animal bonding.
The Japanese Animal Hospital Association has conducted animal-assisted activities at 6,000 facilities nationwide, mainly nursing homes for elderly people.
“It is scientifically proven that good interaction between people and animals brings (therapeutic) results,” said Kato, who is also director of Angel Memorial Animal Hospital International in Tokyo. “So we’ve got to promote activities that help people, especially children, build better relationships with animals.”
To do this, Kato pointed out that Japan first needs to nurture specialists in the field and train animals, including dogs and cats, to behave safely and show affection toward people before it applies animal-assisted programs like those at Green Chimneys to traumatized children here.
The NPO plans to start a program to foster instructors who can provide human-animal bonding education for children by this fall, he added.
Ross said adults should make more efforts to support children, noting that public subsidies have been getting scarcer in recent years.
“Children sometimes are not our priority, yet they are our future,” he said. “If they can’t be helped, you and I are going to have to pay to have them taken care of. It really puts pressure on us to do the job right.”
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