This was a focus of a London-based symposium held on Tuesday (30 October) on psychosocial support for caregivers run by the UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development.
The term psychosocial, as speaker Silvia Petretti, deputy director of Positively UK, succinctly put it relates to “our minds, our hearts…but is also about our relationships, how we relate to each other.” So how can programmers effectively meet the complex range of emotional, social and practical needs a child impacted by HIV experiences?
A study presented by Dr Lucie Cluver from Oxford University on the impact parental HIV and AIDS has on children living in poor areas of South Africa spelled out the challenges facing those who attempt to provide psychosocial support for children from affected families. Her findings suggest that children who have been orphaned by AIDS show higher levels of distress, depression and anxiety than those who have lost their parents to things such as road accidents, suicide and homicide.
Children orphaned by AIDS may face multiple traumas in that they may also need to care for family members who have developed AIDS. Children in these situations are often too scared to go to school in case the adult they are looking after dies while they are away. If they do attend, children will often be too distracted to concentrate. If this child is also facing AIDS-related stigma or food insecurity it becomes even harder to cope.
To help children overcome such adversity, successful programming must strengthen and build upon what Morten Skovdal of the London School of Economics described as “coping-enabling environments.” These environments could be made up of a child’s peers or the adult neighbours, teachers and relatives that look out for their welfare.
A successful example of a programme designed to strengthen the networks that support children affected by HIV was presented by Rita Muyambo, who leads the Alliance part in the USAID-funded Thogomelo programme in South Africa.
Thogomelo provides psychosocial support for ‘community care givers’, those people who care for children orphaned or impacted by HIV. Community caregivers are best placed to reach the most HIV affected children, as children know and trust them but the experience of dealing with children living such difficult lives can take its toll.
“Thogomelo makes me proud because I have more strength in my mind,” said one caregiver quoted by Rita, one of the 2,500 who have been trained by the Thogomelo programme.
Kate Iorpenda, senior adviser on children for the Alliance, said: “With this event we aimed to move beyond the notion of psychosocial support as one off interventions to make children temporarily happy towards a more sophisticated understanding, one that relates to family life, health and social security.
“It’s about building stronger bases, those protective blocks around a child that will keep them safe in the long term.”
Click here for more information on psychosocial support for children.