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Fostering children affected by AIDS in Richards Bay, South Africa: a qualitative study of grandparents' experiences

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Grandparents are increasingly becoming the primary carers of children orphaned by the HIV epidemic in South Africa. Traditional family roles are being reversed as aging family members take responsibility for the physical and psychosocial needs of children. This study uses qualitative research to explore the experiences of grandparents fostering children orphaned by AIDS in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. The idea was born after a local HIV support organisation (Richards Bay Family Care) observed a trend within their organisation of grandparents increasingly becoming foster parents for orphans. An exploratory study was conducted in the organisation's three target areas (two rural villages and urban Richards Bay); the ultimate aim was to explore options for improving financial and emotional support for this group. The qualitative research methods included: four focus group discussions with foster-carers and community leaders (including two pocket-chart voting exercises); 12 in-depth interviews with grandparent foster-carers; and ten key-informant interviews, mostly with staff who provide support services. Data analysis was by thematic framework. The needs of the grandparent foster-carers varied: the rural participants were essentially concerned with meeting children's basic needs (housing, food and education), while those in urban areas more often felt pressure to provide emotional and psychological support for orphans. In both groups, women were at the forefront of foster care. Important problems identified by the grandparents were child discipline and a feeling of disharmony in the intergenerational relationship. Government foster care grants were identified as a regular source of income for especially the rural foster-carers. The findings may help programme managers better understand the differences in the needs of urban and rural foster parents. The experiences of grandparents as carers of orphans affected by HIV or AIDS are unique considering their age, frailty and poverty status. More research is needed on the role played by men in fostering children orphaned by AIDS.
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