School of Health in Social Science

Animal Guardians

This is a current evidence-based intervention developed with the Scottish SPCA and aimed at children who have been cruel to animals.

Photograph of a girl hugging a dog

'Animal Guardians' was launched in Summer 2018. Its purpose is to provide an intervention for children who have been cruel to animals or are at high risk of doing so. It is funded by the R.S. McDonald Charitable Trust for three years and we have an aligned PhD student, Laura Wauthier, who is working with us on the evaluation. We have completed qualitative interview work with children and are currently running a formal evaluation study.

The programme is organised in four stages. The first three involve discussion with children around:

  1. animal sentience,

  2. animal welfare needs, and

  3. the child's responsibilities. 

The fourth and final stage will involve a visit to one of the Scottish SPCA's animal rehoming centres.

The research component aims to assess the effectiveness of the intervention, understand factors associated with childhood animal cruelty, and develop tools for future assessment. This is the first systematic assessment of an intervention programme for childhood animal cruelty. Although programmes have been set up in the United States, none have been systematically studied for their effectiveness.

This intervention is not only an opportunity to enhance animal welfare by hopefully reducing cases of future cruelty, but also to work with children on skills such as empathy, decision-making, and responsibility. This may have positive long-term impacts into adulthood. Animal cruelty has been linked to domestic abuse and other forms of interpersonal violence, and addressing early antisocial behaviours in children may help reduce their incidence. 


Find out more about the project on the SPCA website

Read the press release on the Scottish SPCA website



Poster summarising use of novel methodologies in a qualitative study of children's cruelty to animals

Wauthier, L., Scottish SPCA & Williams, J.M. A Qualitative Study of Children’s Accounts of Cruelty to Animals: Uncovering the Roles of Trauma, Exposure to Violence, and Attachment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. June 2020.


Poster summary