Original Articles

Questioning the use-value of social relationships: care and support of youths affected by HIV in child-headed households in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2012.734990
Author(s): Diana Van DijkCentre for International Development Issues Nijmegen (CIDIN), The Netherlands, Francien Van DrielCentre for International Development Issues Nijmegen (CIDIN), The Netherlands


The opinion that the extended family can fulfil its supportive role in assisting child-headed households continues to exist. How these households encounter support, what this support entails, and how they experience this support is an under-researched subject. Most research literature on this topic emphasises child-headed households’ material and financial support. However, although financial support is vital, emotional support to cope with the loss of loved ones, or with loneliness and insecurity, is also much needed, as well as adult assistance in obtaining formal support, such as social welfare grants. Thus, to what extent are child-headed households capable of capitalising on existing (extended) family and community members’ care and support? This article addresses this question by exploring the ‘use-value’ of social relationships among child-headed households in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The coping strategies of the child-headed households are discussed and analysed, indicating the children's interpretations and valuation of social relationships and support, whether this increased their potential access to other resources, and whether this support could be considered sufficient. Despite some exceptions, we argue that support from relatives or neighbours is often ambiguous and of little use-value from the viewpoint of a child-headed household. Insights from these findings might be of interest to those involved in support programmes for these households, including the assignment of an adult mentor — which is based on the assumption that existing networks of extended family and community members will help orphaned and vulnerable children to cope.

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