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An Exploratory Study on Theoretical Frameworks in a Supported Helpers Programme for Young People with Disabilities between the ages of 6 – 18 years Research Project

This Research Project was being conducted by Leda Connaughton.

Introduction
Much has been written about various theoretical frameworks which help to explain the benefits of animal assisted activities (O’Haire, 2010; Kruger & Serpel, 2006) with less reported on the mechanism underpinning equine facilitated activities (Pendry, 2013; Selby, 2009). Social cognitive theory, social support theory, role theory, biophilia hypothesis and attachment theory, amongst others, have been used to explain in part why equine facilitated programmes may be effective in improving the social, emotional and/or behavioural (SEB) well-being of young people (Breitenbach et al, 2009; Anderson & Olson, 2006). Building on the Supported Helpers Programme (SHP)– a socially inclusive intervention for young people with disabilities aged 12 – 18 years as ‘helpers’ in an Equestrian Centre – this study examined which theories may explain the SEB improvements as reported by parents (n=20).

Methodology
Quantitative data collected from parents of young people explored if parent’s believed their child had become more responsible since joining the SHP, and if so in which areas. Parents were also asked to identify the main benefits of the programme. In-depth interviews (by an independent interviewer) were then conducted with parent’s (n=3) to discuss possible explanations for changes in their child’s SEB well-being. These were then examined in the context of most frequently theoretical frameworks.

About the Researcher
Leda Connaughton, BHS Stage 1 & 2
Leda has been involved with Festina Lente since she first started as a helper and rider at the age of 12 years of age. In 2009, Leda and a colleague piloted the Supported Helpers Programme, originally funded by Wicklow County Council. This programme has grown from an 8 week programme to 6 days per week and all year round project involving up to 4 staff members. Leda has been able to combine her love for horses and her strong interest in working with children by working part-time with the Supported Helpers programme and also covering maternity leave on the Transition Training Programme.

A psychology undergraduate, Leda looks forward to working with children full time when she graduates. Leda is evaluating the benefits of the Supported Helpers Programme from a social inclusion perspective. Additionally, the study will explore role theory and its relevance to the Supported Helpers Programme.