What does it mean to young people to be part of a care farm? An evaluation of a care farm intervention for young people with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.
Conference: Bournemouth University, Faculty of Science and TechnologyAbstract:
This PhD thesis presents the findings of an evaluation to understand the impact of a care farm aiming to improve the mental and social health of disadvantaged young people with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESDs) from low-socioeconomic backgrounds who are at risk of becoming NEET (Not in Employment, Education and Training) at sixteen years of age. It examines the potential for underlying mechanisms of a care farm to enhance young people’s chances of remaining in education, employment and training and lead to improvements for this disadvantaged group’s health and well-being. The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) was used as a theoretical framework to explore the psychological mechanisms underlying experiences of attending the care farm.
This mixed-method study, explores the experiences and perceptions of young people attending the care farm. Data were longitudinally captured using a validated questionnaire pack, semi- structured interviews at baseline, six months and nine months, triangulated with observational fieldwork. The RE-AIM (Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance) evaluation framework was used to contextualise these findings.
Inferential statistical analysis of behavioural, emotional and subjective well-being measure scores identified statistically significant differences in respect of the amount of time the young people had been attending the care farm and reductions in conduct problems, hyperactivity and the use of non-productive coping strategies and increased satisfaction with school, awareness of how actions affect the environment and overall connection to nature. Analysis of qualitative data suggested the young people perceived the farm as an inclusive environment, which improved their green environmental engagement (e.g. positive experiences from animals, sense of freedom from the physical space, increased participation in physical activity), personal functioning (e.g. coping, trust, self-confidence, self-efficacy, kindness, empathy), social functioning (e.g. pro-social behaviour: relationships with family, peers and in the school environment, social inclusion, sense of belonging to the care farm) and personal development (e.g. re-engagement with school, life & work skill learning). The young people also reported a reduction in their self-reported mental health risks (depression, anxiety and stress) and behavioural regulation difficulties.
The thesis concludes by arguing that this care farm initiative provides an alternative to traditional classroom based learning for pre-NEET young people with BESDs when they are therapeutically supported in a green space. The farm environment is conducive for young people to build key social, life and relationship skills, thus enhancing their chances of remaining in education, employment or training.