Orphaned and abandoned children’s perceptions of social support: A mixed methods study conducted in children’s homes in South Africa.


As of 2014, there were 4 million orphaned children living in South Africa (UNICEF, 2014). Research indicates that orphaned children are at increased risk for psychological distress, and children orphaned due to AIDS are at even greater risk. The current study took a mixed methods approach to explore mental health functioning and social support as a pathway to resilience among orphaned and abandoned children living in children’s homes in South Africa. Participants included children (n=29) and staff (n=6) of 3 children’s homes. The child participants were orphaned due to AIDS, orphaned by other causes, or abandoned. The mental health functioning of child participants was examined using a standardized instrument, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Social support was measured using the participatory ranking method with child participants. Qualitative interviews were conducted with individual staff members at the children’s homes to further explore social support as a pathway to resilience. Results showed that 20% of child participants scored within the abnormal range on the mental health difficulties section of the SDQ. Furthermore, there were no significant differences found between the mental health scores of children orphaned by AIDS compared to children who had been orphaned and abandoned due to other causes. Participants perceived family, friends, and children’s home staff as the most important sources of social support. In addition, child participants perceived emotional and esteem support, as well as dependability and protection as important functions of social support. Finally, there were both similarities and differences between child perceptions of social support and the social support staff believed was most important for resilient outcomes among orphaned and abandoned children.