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Authors

Risley-Curtiss

Abstract

Sixty-nine million U.S. households have companion animals and most of these families consider these animals to be family members. Research shows that children have powerful emotional connections with animals that can be both beneficial and harmful. Considerable research findings report that violence against animals often co-occurs with, indicates, or predicts other forms of family violence, including child abuse. A companion animal may be an abused child's confidante, and separation from that animal through foster care may be a source of stress and grief for that child. Child welfare agencies are slowly acknowledging some animal-human relationships, especially in regard to animal abuse and family violence, yet professional acceptance of the significance of animals in the lives of children is often piecemeal. Being a meaningful part of the family system means that including questions and observations about the past and current presence ofanimals in child welfare households, the meaning those animals have for each family member, their care, and whether any of them have been hurt or killed is important to effective family-centered practice. This article discusses how taking a more ecological approach by consciously integrating animal-human relationships into child welfare practice can help caseworkers make a more accurate and useful assessment of child safety and well-being.

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