Tag: vulnerable children

Title: Assessment of emotional status of orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia

Authors: Sharon M. Kirkpatrick PhD, RN, FAAN,

Wilaiporn Rojjanasrirat PhD, RNC

Beverly J. South MSN, RN-BC, CNE

Jeri A. Sindt MSN, RN

Lee A. Williams MA, MLIS, AHIP

Date: May 3, 2012


Purpose: To describe the emotional status of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in two communities in Zambia.

Methods: The Health Ed Connect Adaptation Questionnaire (HECAQ) was used to interview 306 OVC and 158 primary caregivers in Zambia in 2010.

Findings: Child participants and caregivers reported evidence of emotional distress behaviors in the majority of OVC.

Conclusions: More research to evaluate the efficacy of intervention programs for loss and grief, normal and abnormal reactions to grief, and positive coping skills is needed to assist both children and their caretakers. In the population studied, caregivers and OVC could benefit from additional support for promoting emotional health and managing emotional distress in vulnerable children.

Clinical Relevance: Healthcare professionals play a key role in promoting the emotional health of OVC through identification of deviant behaviors and the development of interventions to alleviate emotional and psychological distress.

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Title: Prevalence and predictors of HIV-related stigma among institutional- and community-based caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children living in five less-wealthy countries

Authors: Lynne Messer, Brian Pence, Kathryn Whetten, Rachel Whetten, Nathan Thielman, Karen O’Donnell, Jan Ostermann

Date: 2010



In the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has contributed to the dramatic increase in orphans and abandoned children (OAC) worldwide, caregiver attitudes about HIV, and HIV-related stigma, are two attributes that may affect caregiving. Little research has considered the relationship between caregiver attributes and caregiver-reported HIV-related stigma. In light of the paucity of this literature, this paper will describe HIV-related stigma among caregivers of OAC in five less wealthy nations.


Baseline data were collected between May 2006 through February 2008. The sample included 1,480 community-based and 192 institution-based caregivers. Characteristics of the community-based and institution-based caregivers are described using means and standard deviations for continuous variables or counts and percentages for categorical variables. We fit logistic regression models, both for the full sample and separately for community-based and institution-based caregivers, to explore predictors of acceptance of HIV.


Approximately 80% of both community-based and institution-based caregivers were female; and 84% of institution-based caregivers, compared to 66% of community-based caregivers, said that they would be willing to care for a relative with HIV. Similar proportions were reported when caregivers were asked if they were willing to let their child play with an HIV-infected child. In a multivariable model predicting willingness to care for an HIV-infected relative, adjusted for site fixed effects, being an institution-based caregiver was associated with greater willingness (less stigma) than community-based caregivers. Decreased willingness was reported by older respondents, while willingness increased with greater formal education. In the adjusted models predicting willingness to allow one’s child to play with an HIV-infected child, female gender and older age was associated with less willingness. However, willingness was positively associated with years of formal education.


The caregiver-child relationship is central to a child’s development. OAC already face stigma as a result of their orphaned or abandoned status; the addition of HIV-related stigma represents a double burden for these children. Further research on the prevalence of HIV-related acceptance and stigma among caregivers and implications of such stigma for child development will be critical as the policy community responds to the global HIV/AIDS orphan crisis.

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Title: A Brief Assessment of Learning for Orphaned and Abandoned Children in Low and Middle Income Countries

Authors: Karen O’Donnell, Robert Murphy, Jan Ostermann, Max Masnick, Rachel A. Whetten, Elisabeth Madden, Nathan M. Thielman, Kathryn Whetten and The Positive Outcomes for Orphans (POFO) Research Team

Date: 2012

Abstract: Assessment of children’s learning and performance in low and middle income countries has been critiqued as lacking a gold standard, an appropriate norm reference group, and demonstrated applicability of assessment tasks to the context. This study was designed to examine the performance of three nonverbal and one adapted verbal measure of children’s problem solving, memory, motivation, and attention across five culturally diverse sites. The goal was to evaluate the tests as indicators of individual differences affected by life events and care circumstances for vulnerable children. We conclude that the measures can be successfully employed with fidelity in non-standard settings in LMICs, and are associated with child age and educational experience across the settings. The tests can be useful in evaluating variability in vulnerable child outcomes.

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Title: Orphanhood and Completion of Compulsory School Education Among Young People in South Africa: Findings From a National Representative Survey

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

Date: Feb. 21, 2008

Abstract: We examined the association of orphanhood and completion of compulsory school education among young people in South Africa. In South Africa, school attendance is compulsory through grade 9, which should be completed before age 16. However, family and social factors such as orphanhood and poverty can hinder educational attainment. Participants were 10,452 16–24-year-olds who completed a South African national representative household survey. Overall, 23% had not completed compulsory school levels. In univariate analyses, school completion was lower among those who had experienced orphanhood during school-age years, males, and those who reported household poverty. In multivariate analyses controlling for household poverty, females who had experienced maternal or paternal orphanhood were less likely to have completed school; orphanhood was not independently associated with males’ school completion. Findings highlight the need for evidence-informed policies to address the education and social welfare needs of orphans and vulnerable youth, particularly females, in South Africa.

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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: Improving Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care: Trauma-Focused CBT

Context: Children and adolescents in foster care have significant, and often unmet, mental health needs (Leslie, Hurlburt, Landsverk, & Barth, 2004). For school-aged youth, the most common problems are disruptive behavior disorders and sequelae of trauma exposure (e.g., Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], Depression) (Landsverk, Burns, & Stambaugh, in press). Such mental health problems, in turn, are linked to a range of negative outcomes (e.g., functioning, placement stability/permanency) (James, Landsverk, & Slymen, 2004; Landsverk, Davis, Granger, Newton, & Johnson, 1996). There is tremendous interest in the field to increase use of evidence-based treatments that target specific mental health problems and needs of youth in foster care. Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) potentially provides an excellent fit. Evidence from randomized trials supports the efficacy of TF-CBT in treating PTSD, behavior problems, and other trauma sequelae (Cohen, Deblinger, Mannarino, & Steer, 2004). Although TF-CBT holds promise for youth in foster care, there are likely complexities in providing it to such youth. Findings from dismantling research indicate that caregiver involvement is crucial for maximizing treatment effects of TF-CBT (Deblinger, Lippman, & Steer, 1996). However, available evidence and our clinical experience suggest that foster parents are infrequently engaged in a proactive and ongoing manner in their foster children’s mental health treatment.

Study Aims: Therefore the primary aim of the proposed R34 is to conduct a pilot study of TF-CBT with children and adolescents in foster care, with a targeted focus on engaging foster parents in treatment. The proposed project brings together two complementary interventions-evidence-based engagement strategies (McKay, Stoewe, McCadam, & Gonzales, 1998) and TF-CBT (Cohen, Deblinger & Mannarino, 2006; Deblinger & Heflin, 1996)-in an attempt to improve treatment and outcomes for youth in foster care.

Methods: The project includes two phases: Phase 1: (a) preliminary feasibility study (N = 10) of the evidence-based engagement strategies and TF-CBT; and (b) refinement and development of a manualized engagement intervention based on feedback from foster parents and other key informants. Phase 2: pilot study (N=80) of the refined engagement strategies and TF-CBT (ECBT) compared to ‘usual practice’ TF-CBT (i.e., no specialized engagement) to assess implementation of the combined intervention and provide preliminary data on critical outcomes (e.g., PTS symptoms, behavioral problems, placement stability). Findings will be used to inform a large-scale randomized trial (i.e., R- 01) on effectiveness of ECBT to improve outcomes for youth in foster care with mental health problems. Youth in foster care have very high rates of mental health problems (Leslie, Hurlburt, Landsverk, & Barth, 2004). These include externalizing (e.g., conduct disorder, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder) as well as internalizing (e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD) problems. Recent research on epidemiology and treatment has suggested that this combination of symptoms is often related to youth in foster care’s extensive histories of exposure to trauma (Simms, Dubowitz, & Szilagyi, 2000) Therefore, effective treatment of the symptoms requires explicit evidence-based treatment that addresses both the underlying sequelae of trauma and the immediate behavioral manifestations. Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is an evidence- based treatment that appears promising, with specific modifications, for this group of high-risk youth (Deblinger, Lippman, & Steer, 1996).

Implications: The proposed research builds from and combines existing evidence- based strategies (Cohen, Deblinger, Mannarino, & Steer, 2004; McKay, Stoewe, McDadam, & Gonzales, 1998) to more effectively treat some of the nation’s most at-risk and vulnerable youth. Findings from this research will be used to develop and disseminate more effective treatments for youth with mental health problems in the foster care system. Such findings should help improve treatment, services, and outcomes within the entire system of care that serves youth with mental health problems (e.g., specialty mental health providers, child welfare and child protective services, juvenile justice).

Principal Investigator: Shannon Dorsey (University of Washington)

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Title: Psychological Distress in Orphan, Vulnerable Children and Non-Vulnerable Children in High Prevalence HIV/AIDS Communities

Authors: Killian, B. and K. Durrheim.

Date: 2008

Abstract: The degree of psychological distress and access social support is investigated in children (n = 741) living in nine high prevalence HIV/AIDS communities. They comprised (1) vulnerable, maternally-orphaned (n = 319); (ii) vulnerable and not orphaned (n = 276); and (iii) typically developing (n = 146). The following psychometric tests were administered: The Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (Townsend, 2002); the Reynolds Depression Scale for Children (Reynolds, 1989); and the Social Support Scale (Beale Spencer, Cole, Jones & Phillips Swanson, 1997). Primary caregivers completed the Conners’ Parent Rating Scale (Conners, Parker, Sitarenios, & Epstein, 1998) and an Adversity Index (Killian, 2004a) to establish the vulnerability status of each child. The data were analysed to distinguish the groups from each other regarding profiles of distress. The findings suggest that vulnerable children, be they orphaned or not, manifest similar degrees of emotional distress and perceived themselves as unable to access social support. Interventions should address the needs of both orphans and other vulnerable children, without prioritising the needs of orphans over other vulnerable children.

Citation: Killian, B. and K. Durrheim (2008). “Psychological Distress in Orphan, Vulnerable Children and Non-Vulnerable Children in High Prevalence HIV/AIDS Communities.” Journal of Psychology in Africa 18(3): 421-429.

Title: Malawi Orphans and Vulnerable Children Evaluation (MOVE) 

Context: Between 700,000 and 1.2 million children in Malawi have been orphaned by AIDS, and many others are vulnerable. The Funders’ Collaborative for Children (FCFC), a novel collaboration between 4 independent funding organizations, is funding an intervention that aims to establish a collaborative, replicable, and sustainable model of prevention, treatment, and care which will result in a “system of care” better able to support children and their families than the currently fragmented organization of agencies and groups.  The program is implemented in Salima District, Malawi, by Family Health International (FHI) in collaboration with XXX implementing partner organizations. Duke University and Malawi’s College of Medicine were contracted to jointly evaluate the effectiveness of the 5-year program. MOVE assesses the impact of the intervention on child outcomes in four domains: health; education; social welfare; and nutrition and livelihood. 

Study Aims: The FCFC intervention aims to improve the lives of 65 percent of vulnerable children in Salima District in terms of their education, health, livelihood, and social welfare. Researchers at Duke University and the College of Medicine will determine if the Funder’s Collaborative for Children achieved its objective.

Methods: The effectiveness of this intervention model is evaluated using qualitative and quantitative monitoring and evaluation methods. Repeated cross-sectional cluster surveys with a total of 1,260 vulnerable children and their caregivers assess district-level intervention coverage and changes in outcomes over time.  Repeat assessments with 200 of these children, half in intervention areas and half in non-intervention areas seek to attribute changes to the program.  Twice-annual surveys with implementing partners assess changes in scale and scope of service delivery.

Policy Implications:

This evaluation will determine if the FCFC intervention is effective in improving the wellbeing of orphans and other vulnerable children in Salima District, Malawi. If the evaluation demonstrates that the intervention is effective, it will help funders and national policymakers design more integrated and more effective care systems for orphans and vulnerable children.

Investigators: Karen O’Donnell (Duke University) Jan Ostermann (Duke University), Eric Umar (College of Medicine, Malawi), Kathryn Whetten (Duke University), Sara Legrand (Duke University)

Funding Source: Funders’ Collaborative for Children (Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Comic Relief, Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund)

Contact: [email protected]

Study Title: Randomized Controlled Trial of Ways to Improve OVC HIV Prevention and Well-Being (Zambia CBT)

Context: With millions of youth orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa undergoing high levels of stress-related problems—such as interpersonal and problem-solving skills deficits, unhealthy thoughts, and maladaptive behaviors—addressing trauma and stress is a pressing need. Addressing these stressors is especially important in preventing the spread of HIV by reducing stress-induced risky sexual behaviors among orphaned and vulnerable children. Other studies have shown that cognitive behavior therapy interventions, when adapted for local environments, have been effective in addressing such stress-related problems.

Study Aims: This study will focus on comparing the effectiveness of psychosocial counseling (PC) and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). The study will primarily compare the effectiveness of psychosocial counseling and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy in addressing the stress-related problems among orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC). In addition, the study will examine the effectiveness of these two major types of treatment in reducing sexual risk behaviors while accounting for factors that mediate and moderate HIV risk behaviors. Finally, this study will compare the cost-effectiveness of the two treatment methods.

Methods: This study, which is being conducted in Zambia, utilizes a randomized controlled trial of psychosocial counseling and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been utilized in other previous and ongoing studies. The major outcomes that this study will analyze include HIV risk behaviors, emotional and behavioral health, social support, overall well-being and mental health development of OVC. Researchers will recruit adolescents aged 13-17 who report risky sexual behavior, including recent sex without a condom. Adolescent participants and their caregivers will be assessed utilizing a computerized interviewing program that will enhance privacy and honesty of responses.

Policy Implications:

  • This study will provide necessary scientific evidence on the feasibility, effectiveness, and cost effectiveness of interventions for OVC affected by HIV/AIDS.
  • Results from this study will help inform efficient program design, policy, and effectiveness of interventions for preventing HIV among OVC living in low-resource settings.

M-Principal Investigators: Laura Murray (Johns Hopkins University) and Paul Bolton (Harvard University)

Investigators: Judith Cohen (University of Pittsburg), Shannon Dorsey (University of Washington), Kathryn Whetten (Duke University),

Contact Information: [email protected]