College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Scheme teaches kids how to respect animals

Experts have helped create a new scheme to help prevent children committing cruelty against animals.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals (SSPCA) has launched Animal Guardians, a new education programme for primary school children in the Edinburgh City Council area.

It has been developed in collaboration with Dr Jo Williams, senior lecturer in Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Edinburgh.

Animal welfare

Dr Williams’ research highlights that adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, victimisation and bullying be pivotal in the likelihood that a child will engage in animal cruelty.

The research –conducted with the SSPCA – also showed that the Society’s Prevention through Education programme decreased children’s tolerance of animal cruelty by increasing their knowledge, positive attitudes and children’s beliefs in animal emotions and welfare.

Childhood animal cruelty is under-researched but is often linked with other forms of violence and abuse. Early intervention is important for promoting empathy and compassionate behaviour.

Dr Jo WilliamsSenior lecturer, Clinical and Health Psychology

Appropriate behaviour

Beginning as a pilot in Edinburgh, Animal Guardians will work with agencies who will refer children who have been identified as having the potential to commit, or have already committed, an act of animal cruelty to our programme.

Building on Prevention through Education, the new programme will then work with them on a one-to-one basis to help them better understand animal welfare needs and appropriate behaviours towards animals.

Currently, we reach over 270,000 primary aged children in Scotland through our free Prevention through Education programme, which focuses on teaching children how to be responsible animal citizens. Initially, we are piloting Animal Guardians in Edinburgh, but we hope to expand the programme nationally. Education is key to preventing animal cruelty in the future.

Gilly Mendes FerreiraHead of Education and Policy, SSPCA

Generous support

The new scheme has received generous support from the RS MacDonald Charitable Trust for the pilot, for an initial three years.

The SSPCA will continue working with the University to assess the new programme.  

I welcome the launch of the Animal Guardians animal cruelty prevention programme. This vital project will hopefully go some way to educating children in how animals have a right to be treated humanely. The programme is taking a holistic approach in teaching children - working with children who have already been found to mistreat animals to help avoid this happening again in the future as well as children who may be at risk of committing such acts. This sustained educational approach is progressive and commendable.

James Dornan MSP

Related links

Animal Guardians

Clinical Psychology