Much has been written in the media about the plight of children in child-headed households. However, little is known about the psychological experiences of children carrying responsibility for households as a result of parental death due to HIV/AIDS. Most of the research that has been done has utilised quantitative approaches to investigate the social and economic challenges confronted by children affected by HIV/AIDS. The aim of the present study was to explore, using a qualitative approach, the challenges, psychological experiences and perceptions of children carrying responsibility for child-headed households as a result of parental death due to HIV/AIDS. A total of fourteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with children carrying responsibility for households in Gauteng and Kwa Zulu Natal provinces of South Africa. The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) approach was used to guide the data analysis process (Smith&Osborn, 2003). The findings from the study highlight the devastating consequences of living and coping with parental illness, bereavement as well as carrying the responsibility for a household. Illness and bereavement-related themes that emerged from the study include reversal of roles, living with parental illness, denial and fear of the impending reality, grief and sense of loss, and the apportioning of blame. The dominant post-bereavement experiences were: lost childhood and self; sense of obligation to family, abandonment and neglect; concern over basic survival needs, grappling with conflicting demands, and feelings of helplessness, vulnerability and uncertainty. Significantly, the study found that experiences in the community as well as personal dispositional factors both mediated and aggravated psychological adjustment. Although the children interviewed in this study are faced with very difficult challenges they, nevertheless, appear to be quite resilient. The study highlights the importance of providing care and support to these children before, during and after the death of a parent or parents. Implications and limitations of the study are also critically discussed.
Dissertation (MA (Psychology))--University of Pretoria, 2008.