BACKGROUND: AIDS related deaths of parents have resulted in large numbers of children being orphaned. Adolescence, a particularly vulnerable period in a child's developmental life is characterised by uncertainties, role confusion and identity crises. This stage becomes even more complex when adolescents lose their parents through AIDS. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences of adolescents who have lost their parents through AIDS.
METHODS: In-depth interviews were conducted with 8 adolescents between 14-17 years old who had lost a parent to AIDS. A thematic analysis of the transcripts was performed.
RESULTS: Some of these adolescents had to grow up quickly, so as to engage in parental roles before they were of appropriate age. The participants had to endure multiple stresses. The maternal grandparents were seen as the most suitable support compared to the paternal grandparents.
CONCLUSIONS: When placing these children into foster care it is important to consider close relatives or members of the community that these children are familiar with. Trauma counselling should be afforded to adolescents who lost their parents due to AIDS. Interventions are urgently needed that are suitable to the local context and that address bereavement as well as other issues that affect the day-to-day lives of these adolescents. Additional studies are needed to identify factors that promote resilience among these adolescents and the role of paternal family in caring for adolescent orphans.