Title: Psychological distress amongst AIDS-orphaned children in urban South Africa

Authors: Lucie Cluver, Frances Gardner, Don Operario

Date: 2007

Abstract: BACKGROUND: South Africa is predicted to have 2.3 million children orphaned by Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) by 2020 (Actuarial Society of South Africa, 2005). There is little knowledge about impacts of AIDS-related bereavement on children, to aid planning of services. This study aimed to investigate psychological consequences of AIDS orphanhood in urban township areas of Cape Town, South Africa, compared to control groups of children and adolescents orphaned by other causes, and non-orphans. METHOD: One thousand and twenty-five children and adolescents (aged 10-19) were interviewed using socio-demographic questionnaires and standardised scales for assessing depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, peer problems, delinquency and conduct problems. RESULTS: Controlling for socio-demographic factors such as age, gender, formal/informal dwelling and age at orphanhood, children orphaned by AIDS were more likely to report symptoms of depression, peer relationship problems, post-traumatic stress, delinquency and conduct problems than both children orphaned by other causes and non-orphaned children. Anxiety showed no differences. AIDS-orphaned children were more likely to report suicidal ideation. Compared to Western norms, AIDS-orphaned children showed higher levels of internalizing problems and delinquency, but lower levels of conduct problems. CONCLUSIONS: Children orphaned by AIDS may be a particularly vulnerable group in terms of emotional and, to a lesser extent, behavioural problems. Intervention programs are necessary to ameliorate the psychological sequelae of losing a parent to AIDS.

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Title: Posttraumatic stress in AIDS-orphaned children exposed to high levels of trauma: the protective role of perceived social support

Authors: Lucie Cluver, Dylan S Fincham, Soroya Seedat

Date: 2009

Abstract: Poor urban children in South Africa are exposed to multiple community traumas, but AIDS-orphaned children are at particular risk for posttraumatic stress. This study examined the hypothesis that social support may moderate the relationship between trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress for this group. Four hundred twenty-five AIDS-orphaned children were interviewed using standardized measures of psychopathology. Compared to participants with low perceived social support, those with high perceived social support demonstrated significantly lower levels of PTSD symptoms after both low and high levels of trauma exposure. This suggests that strong perception of social support from carers, school staff, and friends may lessen deleterious effects of exposure to trauma, and could be a focus of intervention efforts to improve psychological outcomes for AIDS-orphaned children.

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Title: AIDS-Orphanhood and Caregiver HIV/AIDS Sickness Status: Effects on Psychological Symptoms in South African Youth

Authors: Lucie Cluver, Mark Orkin, Mark E Boyes, Frances Gardner, Joy Nikelo

Date: Feb, 7, 2012



Research has established that AIDS-orphaned youth are at high risk of internalizing psychological distress. However, little is known about youth living with caregivers who are unwell with AIDS or youth simultaneously affected by AIDS-orphanhood and caregiver AIDS sickness.


1025 South African youth were interviewed in 2005 and followed up in 2009 (71% retention). Participants completed standardized measures of anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress. Comparison groups were youth who were AIDS-orphaned, other-orphaned, and nonorphaned, and those whose caregivers were sick with AIDS, sick with another disease, or healthy.


Longitudinal analyses showed that both AIDS-orphanhood and caregiver AIDS sickness predicted increased depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms over a 4-year period, independently of sociodemographic cofactors and of each other. Caregiver sickness or death by non-AIDS causes, and having a healthy or living caregiver, did not predict youth symptomatology. Youths simultaneously affected by caregiver AIDS sickness and AIDS-orphanhood showed cumulative negative effects.


Findings suggest that policy and interventions, currently focused on orphanhood, should include youth whose caregivers are unwell with AIDS.

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Title: Persisting mental health problems among AIDS-orphaned children in South Africa

Authors: Lucie Cluver, Mark Orkin, Frances Gardner, Mark E Boyes

Date: 2011



By 2008, 12 million children in sub-Saharan Africa were orphaned by AIDS. Cross-sectional studies show psychological problems for AIDS-orphaned children, but until now no longitudinal study has explored enduring psychological effects of AIDS-orphanhood in low-income countries.


A 4-year longitudinal follow-up of AIDS-orphaned children with control groups of other-orphans and non-orphans. 1021 children (M = 13.4 years, 50% female, 98% isiXhosa-speaking) were interviewed in 2005 and followed up in 2009 with 71% retention (49% female, M = 16.9 years), in poor urban South African settlements. Children were interviewed using sociodemographic questionnaires and well-validated standardised scales for assessing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Data were analysed using mixed-design ANOVA and backward-stepping regression.


AIDS-orphaned children showed higher depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) scores in both 2005 and 2009 when compared with other-orphans and non-orphans. Backward-stepping regression, controlling for baseline mental health, and sociodemographic cofactors such as age, gender, and type of bereavement, revealed that being AIDS-orphaned in 2005 was associated with depression, anxiety, and PTSD scores in 2009. This was not the case for other-orphaned or non-orphaned children. Age interacted with orphan status, such that there was a steep rise in psychological distress in the AIDS-orphaned group, but no rise with age amongst other-orphans and non-orphans.


Negative mental health outcomes amongst AIDS-orphaned children are maintained and worsen over a 4-year period. It is important that psychosocial support programmes are sustained, and focus on youth as well as young children.



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Study Title: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adjudicated Youth in Residential Treatment

Context: Adjudicated youth have high rates of trauma exposure and   Stress Disorder (PTSD) which place them at increased risk for future offending and incarceration. Few of these youth receive evidence-based developmentally appropriate PTSD treatment.

Study Aims: Adjudicated youth have high rates of trauma exposure and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but most have never received effective treatment. The purpose of this study is to test two alternative methods for training therapists to deliver an evidence- based trauma treatment to adjudicated youth with PTSD symptoms during residential treatment and therefore decrease their risk of future offending and incarceration

Methods: This study proposes to evaluate two alternative strategies for training therapists to deliver a proven youth trauma treatment, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) to adjudicated youth in ten juvenile justice RTF programs in New England. All RTF programs will receive organizational readiness consisting of 1) novel integrated trauma training for RTF staff (direct care milieu staff, teachers and administrators) about trauma impact and how to support TF-CBT implementation in the RTF; and 2) PTSD assessment training for therapists. Randomization will then occur within each RTF program at the therapist level, to one of two TF-CBT delivery strategies: 1) Web-based TF-CBT Delivery (“W”) in which therapists will receive web-based training and web-based consultation via the TF-CBTWeb and TF-CBTConsult distance learning programs; or 2) W+ Live (“W+L”) in which therapists will receive W+ face-to-face 2-day expert TF-CBT training and ongoing twice monthly expert phone consultation and training to TF-CBT fidelity standards via audiotape rating. The study’s central hypothesis is that W+L will lead to superior outcomes. However, based on cost- effectiveness analyses, W may be acceptable. The study will evaluate the differences in outcomes between the two strategies in terms of the following hypotheses: 1) fidelity: W+L strategy will lead to greater treatment fidelity and to youth receiving greater RTF staff support in TF-CBT delivery than W; several mechanisms are proposed for these differences; 2) improved youth outcomes: W+L will lead to greater improvement in youth PTSD and depressive symptoms than W; and 3) broad and sustained TF-CBT uptake: more youth will receive TF-CBT from W+L than from W therapists; 4) cost effectiveness: W may be acceptable due to cost effectiveness analyses.

Principal Investigator: Judith Cohen (Allegheny General Hospital)