Horticultural intervention using garden-based activities may be effective in promoting mental and emotional well-being of children experiencing emotional and social difficulties
This paper discusses the evaluation findings of a pilot school-based social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) intervention referred to as “Haven of Green Space” (or “Haven Green Space”). Also presented is a critical reflection on the evaluation approach. Both the intervention and the evaluation are based, in part, on the “Five Ways to Wellbeing” framework. This framework, while designed to promote the physical and mental health of all people, is also viewed as a way to address health inequalities in a community. The Five Ways are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, and Give. These five actions are embedded in the “Haven of Green Space” intervention which is designed for school children experiencing behavioral, emotional and social difficulties (BESD).
Thirty-six children with BESD from three different schools (two primary and one secondary) in North West England participated in the pilot-testing of Haven Green Space intervention. All three schools were in high-poverty communities. The participating children attended monthly SHT sessions over a six-month period, each session two hours in length. Two horticulturists and a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service psychotherapist facilitated the sessions. While activities during the sessions included developing and maintaining gardens on the schoolgrounds, the primary focus of the activities was on fostering the wellbeing of students, rather than productive gardening. The primary focus of the evaluation was on trends in the mental health and wellbeing of the participating children. An additional evaluation goal was to explore how existing measures might assess the Five Ways framework in relation to children’s wellbeing. Two existing mental health evaluation measures were adapted for use with school children — the Mental Well Being Impact Assessment (MWIA) and Wellbeing Check Cards. Both measures were used for pre- and post-assessments. The MWIA is an evidence-based qualitative measure addressing three outcome-related domains: Enhancing control, Increasing Resilience and Community Asset, and Participation and Social Inclusion. The Wellbeing Check Cards assessment is a self-report measure where respondents use a Likert scale to record how they’ve been feeling over the last few weeks in relation to seven statements about mental wellbeing factors. Examples of statements include “I feel relaxed” and “I feel like I have friends.”
Results of the MWIA for all three schools showed increases in the areas of “emotional wellbeing” and “self-help.” Findings from the Wellbeing Check Cards were not consistent with MWIA results, in that scores from the Wellbeing Check Cards showed decreases in many of the wellbeing domains. The timing of the post-assessment is offered as a possible contributing factor to the worsening scores, as the end of the program coincided with the children’s last days at primary school. The overall results, however, suggest a positive association between the Haven Green Space intervention and children’s improved mental wellbeing.
While further research is required to verify these findings, this pilot study does suggest that the Five Ways framework and the garden-based strategies used by Haven Green Space have potential for fostering children’s mental health, well-being, and social relationships.
Chiumento, A., Mukherjee, I., Chandna, J., Dutton, C., Rahman, A., Bristow, K., (2018). A haven of green space: Learning from a pilot pre-post evaluation of a school-based social and therapeutic horticulture intervention with children. BMC Public Health, 18