Category: Longterm Consequences of Orphanhood

Title: A Comparison of the Wellbeing of Orphans and Abandoned Children Ages 6–12 in Institutional and Community-Based Care Settings in 5 Less Wealthy Nations

Authors: Kathryn Whetten, Jan Ostermann, Rachel Whetten, Brian Pence, Karen O’Donnell, Lynne Messer, Nathan Thielman, The Positive Outcomes for Orphans (POFO) Research Team

Date: 2009



Leaders are struggling to care for the estimated 143,000,000 orphans and millions more abandoned children worldwide. Global policy makers are advocating that institution-living orphans and abandoned children (OAC) be moved as quickly as possible to a residential family setting and that institutional care be used as a last resort. This analysis tests the hypothesis that institutional care for OAC aged 6–12 is associated with worse health and wellbeing than community residential care using conservative two-tail tests.


The Positive Outcomes for Orphans (POFO) study employed two-stage random sampling survey methodology in 6 sites across 5 countries to identify 1,357 institution-living and 1,480 community-living OAC ages 6–12, 658 of whom were double-orphans or abandoned by both biological parents. Survey analytic techniques were used to compare cognitive functioning, emotion, behavior, physical health, and growth. Linear mixed-effects models were used to estimate the proportion of variability in child outcomes attributable to the study site, care setting, and child levels and institutional versus community care settings. Conservative analyses limited the community living children to double-orphans or abandoned children.

Principal Findings

Health, emotional and cognitive functioning, and physical growth were no worse for institution-living than community-living OAC, and generally better than for community-living OAC cared for by persons other than a biological parent. Differences between study sites explained 2–23% of the total variability in child outcomes, while differences between care settings within sites explained 8–21%. Differences among children within care settings explained 64–87%. After adjusting for sites, age, and gender, institution vs. community-living explained only 0.3–7% of the variability in child outcomes.


This study does not support the hypothesis that institutional care is systematically associated with poorer wellbeing than community care for OAC aged 6–12 in those countries facing the greatest OAC burden. Much greater variability among children within care settings was observed than among care settings type. Methodologically rigorous studies must be conducted in those countries facing the new OAC epidemic in order to understand which characteristics of care promote child wellbeing. Such characteristics may transcend the structural definitions of institutions or family homes.

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Title: Prevalence of parental death among young people in South Africa and risk for HIV infection

Authors: Don Operario, Audrey Pettifor, Lucie Cluver, Catherine MacPhail, Helen Rees

Date: 2007

Abstract: OBJECTIVES: This study estimated the prevalence and sociodemographic characteristics of young people in South Africa who have experienced parental death and examined associations between parental death and young people’s HIV status and sexual behaviors. DESIGN AND METHODS: Data were from a cross-sectional nationally representative household survey of 11,904 15- to 24-year-old South Africans. Surveys included items on sexual behavior and family composition, and oral fluid samples were collected to test for HIV status. RESULTS: The prevalence of parental death was 27.3% overall: 22.4% reported a father deceased, 7.9% reported a mother deceased, and 3.0% reported both parents deceased. Parental death was disproportionately associated with black ethnicity, impoverished household living conditions, lack of an adult guardian in the home, and not completing compulsory education levels. Controlling for sociodemographic factors, parental death among female participants was significantly associated with HIV-positive status (odds ratio OR = 1.25, 95% confidence interval CI: 1.08 to 1.44), ever having had oral sex (OR = 1.23, 95% CI: 1.02 to 1.49), ever having had vaginal sex (OR = 1.38, 95% CI: 1.19 to 1.60), and having more than 1 sex partner during the past year (OR = 1.33, 95% CI: 1.07 to 1.64). Among male participants, parental death was significantly associated with ever having had vaginal sex (OR = 1.19, 95% CI: 1.04 to 1.36) and having unprotected sex at the last sexual episode (OR = 1.23, 95% CI: 1.07 to 1.42). CONCLUSIONS: More than one quarter of young South Africans have experienced parental death. Death of a parent is associated with young female South Africans’ HIV status and sexual behaviors among young female and male South Africans. HIV prevention interventions are necessary to address the specific needs of young South Africans who have experienced parental death.

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Title: Are orphans at increased risk of malnutrition in Malawi?

Authors: Ratana Panpanich, Bernard Brabin, Andrew Gonani, Stephen Graham

Date: 1999

Abstract: The objective of this study was to compare the nutritional status and health problems of village orphans, non-orphans and orphanage children, and to identify factors associated with undernutrition. A cross-sectional study was conducted in three orphanages and two villages near Blantyre, Malawi. Seventy-six orphanage children, 137 village orphans and 80 village non-orphans were recruited. Anthropometric measurement was done and guardians were interviewed. In the group of children aged <5 years, the prevalence of undernutrition in orphanage children was 54.8% compared with 33.3% and 30% of village orphans and non-orphans, respectively. Sixty-four per cent of young orphanage children were stunted compared with 50% of village orphans and 46.4% of non-orphans. The mean (SD) Z-score of height/age was significantly lower in the orphanage group, -2.75 (1.29) compared with -2.20 (1.51) and -1.61 (1.57) in the village orphan and non-orphan groups (p<0.05). Conversely, older orphanage children (>5 years) were less stunted and wasted than orphans and non-orphans in villages. Illness of children in the last month was reported to be higher in the non-orphan group, especially diarrhoeal disease, which occurred in 30% compared with 10.8% of village orphans and 6.6% of orphanage children. More than three children in a family being cared for by guardians was significantly associated with undernutrition. Orphanage girls were more likely to be malnourished than orphanage boys. Children who had been admitted to an orphanage for more than a year were less malnourished. In village orphans, there was no association between undernutrition and duration of stay in extended families. Age and education of guardians were not associated with the nutritional status of children. We conclude that young orphanage children are more likely to be undernourished and more stunted than village children. Older orphanage children seem to have better nutrition than village orphans. There was no significant difference in nutritional status between village orphans and non-orphans.

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Title: Violence and abuse among HIV-infected women and their children in Zambia: a qualitative study

Authors: Laura Murray, Alan Haworth, Katherine Semrau, Mini Singh, Grace Aldrovandi, Moses Sinkala, Donald Thea, Paul Bolton

Date: 2006

Abstract: HIV and violence are two major public health problems increasingly shown to be connected and relevant to international mental health issues and HIV-related services. Qualitative research is important due to the dearth of literature on this association in low-income countries, cultural influences on mental health syndromes and presentations, and the sensitive nature of the topic. The study presented in this paper sought to investigate the mental health issues of an HIV-affected population of women and children in Lusaka, Zambia, through a systematic qualitative study. Two qualitative methods resulted in the identification of three major problems for women: domestic violence (DV), depression-like syndrome, and alcohol abuse; and children: defilement, DV, and behavior problems. DV and sexual abuse were found to be closely linked to HIV and alcohol abuse. This study shows the local perspective of the overlap between violence and HIV. Results are discussed in relation to the need for violence and abuse to be addressed as HIV services are implemented in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Title: Experiences of Children Heading Households in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Author: Nomlindo Dlungwana, Reshmna Sathiparsad

Date: 2008

Abstract: This study explored the experiences of children who are heads of households, particularly with regard to the psychological, emotional and social effects of heading a household, and access to schooling and support services. Fifteen children (females, n=9; males, n=6; age range 3 to 18) participated. Data were collected using in-depth interviews. Content analysis was employed in the qualitative analysis of the data. The findings revealed that many children from child-headed households lived in poverty, experienced psychological and emotional problems, received limited or no support from relatives and had irregular school attendance. Children heading households face ongoing challenges in relation to fulfilling their basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and security.

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Title: The impact of parental death on school outcomes: longitudinal evidence from South Africa

Author: Anne Case and Cally Ardington

Date: 2006

Abstract: We analyze longitudinal data from a demographic surveillance area (DSA) in KwaZulu-Natal to examine the impact of parental death on children’s outcomes. The results show significant differences in the impact of mothers’ and fathers’ deaths. The loss of a child’s mother is a strong predictor of poor schooling outcomes. Maternal orphans are significantly less likely to be enrolled in school and have completed significantly fewer years of schooling, conditional on age, than children whose mothers are alive. Less money is spent on maternal orphans’ educations, on average, conditional on enrollment. Moreover, children whose mothers have died appear to be at an educational disadvantage when compared with non-orphaned children with whom they live. We use the timing of mothers’ deaths relative to children’s educational shortfalls to argue that mothers’ deaths have a causal effect on children’s educations. The loss of a child’s father is a significant correlate of poor household socioeconomic status. However, the death of a father between waves of the survey has no significant effect on subsequent asset ownership. Evidence from the South African 2001 Census suggests that the estimated effects of maternal deaths on children’s outcomes in the Africa Centre DSA reflect the reality for orphans throughout South Africa.

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Title: Orphanhood and the Long-Run Impact on Children

Author(s): Kathleen Beegle, Joachim De Weerdt, Stefan Dercon

Date: 2006

Abstract: This paper presents unique evidence that orphanhood matters in the long-run for health and education outcomes, in a region of Northwestern Tanzania, an area deeply affected by HIV-AIDS in Africa. We use a sample of non-orphans surveyed in 1991-94, who were traced and reinterviewed in 2004. A large proportion, 23 percent, lost one or more parents before the age of 15 in this period, allowing us to identify the impact of orphanhood shocks. Since a substantial proportion reaches adulthood by 2004, we can also assess permanent health and education impacts of orphanhood. In the analysis, we can control for a wide range of child and adult characteristics before orphanhood, as well as community fixed effects. We find that maternal death causes a permanent height deficit of about 2 cm (or 22 percent of one standard deviation) and a persistent impact on years of education of almost 1 year (or 25 percent of one standard deviation). We also find that paternal orphanhood has an impact on educational outcomes, but only for particular groups. We show evidence that living arrangements and whether the child was in school at the time of losing a parent strongly influence the impact of maternal and paternal death. We also illustrate the problems of inference on the impact of orphanhood if only children who remained in their baseline communities by 2004 had been reinterviewed.

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