Program Helps Parents Nurture the Child/Pet Relationship

Responsible Pet Ownership Program

Categories: Parenting Babies

Research has linked the important relationship between children and pets to companionship, empowering responsibility and empathy. The ‘We Are Family’ program helps inform expectant parents of the potential risks and provides them with the knowledge and skills to ensure that the child /pet relationship is not only an enriching one, but a safe one as well. 

Each day we read articles and watch television reports about dog attacks on young children that can be very confronting for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, carers and dog lovers. With Australia having one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, our pets have become an integral part of family life.

So much has been written about the positive outcomes of children growing up with a dog. Research has linked this important relationship to companionship, empowering responsibility and empathy.

Unfortunately, not all childhood experiences with dogs are positive ones, with research showing children in the 0-4 age group are at the greatest risk of dog attack injury serious enough to end up in hospital.

Sadly, children and dogs do not have an innate understanding of how to behave around each other.

South Australian hospitals reported that 92.5% of the dog bite incidents occurred at the child’s home.All dogs are capable of biting. South Australian hospitals report that 89% of children presented to hospital with dog bite injuries were bitten by their own dog or a dog known to them. (1)

 ‘We Are Family’ Program - Important information for all families with pets

The ‘We Are Family’ program is a means of informing expectant parents of the potential risks and provides them with the knowledge, skills and strategies to ensure that the child /pet relationship is not only a physically and emotionally enriching one, but importantly a safe one as well.

The ‘We are Family’ program is aimed at educating expectant parents, parents of young children and their respective caregivers as to the importance of:

  • Preparing the pets and the home environment for the arrival of a baby
  • Actively supervising all interaction between child and pet
  • Securely separating them when they cannot be actively supervised.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics highlights that the average age of our first time mums has increased to 30. This has led to many couples having established the pet members of the family prior to the arrival of children.

‘We Are Family’ helps to educate expectant parents on how they can prepare the home environment and train their pets to ensure appropriate behaviours are in place prior to the baby’s arrival. If expectant parents understand why their pets may react in different ways, they are better prepared to safeguard children during their most vulnerable years.

How families can access this program

This program is available to all NSW Maternity Hospitals and Early Child Centres FREE of charge as part of the NSW government’s on-going commitment to Responsible Pet Ownership.

‘We Are Family’ is facilitated in hospitals with ante-natal education courses and through maternal child health programs. Expectant parents have access to the program through their antenatal education sessions conducted by the hospital prior to the birth with many booklets distributed at the time of booking into hospital.

Once the child is home, a maternal child health nurse may follow-up with the booklet and  run sessions as part of their parent programs.

Further information is available through the program’s website














  1. Retrospective view of dog bite injuries in children presenting to a South Australian tertiary children’s hospital emergency department-Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health-2014.


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