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Young carers as social actors: Coping strategies of children caring for ailing or ageing guardians in Western Kenya


  • Skovdal, Morten
  • Ogutu, Vincent O.
  • Aoro, Cellestine
  • Campbell, Catherine


There is a vast body of research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on children, but little which acknowledges the role of children in providing care and support for ailing parents or ageing guardians. There has been a tendency to downplay the active role and agency of young carers, with young carers often represented as victims of damaging circumstances that compromise their psychosocial well-being. To counter-balance this tendency, and to develop the critical trend that views children as social actors, we explore how young carers cope with challenging circumstances, often with skill and ingenuity, drawing on data collected in Western Kenya in 2007. Forty-eight young carers (aged 11-17) used photography and drawing to provide accounts of their coping strategies. They described 240 of the resulting photographs and drawings in writing. In addition, 34 individual interviews and 2 group discussions were conducted with children to explore the findings further and 10 individual interviews with local adults were conducted to elucidate the dynamics between adults and children. Our data revealed that young carers cope by mobilising social support, engaging in income generating activities and constructing positive social identities around their caring roles. We conclude that children's ability to cope is determined by the extent to which they are able to participate in their community and negotiate support from it.

Suggested Citation

  • Skovdal, Morten & Ogutu, Vincent O. & Aoro, Cellestine & Campbell, Catherine, 2009. "Young carers as social actors: Coping strategies of children caring for ailing or ageing guardians in Western Kenya," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(4), pages 587-595, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:69:y:2009:i:4:p:587-595

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hosegood, Victoria & Preston-Whyte, Eleanor & Busza, Joanna & Moitse, Sindile & Timaeus, Ian M., 2007. "Revealing the full extent of households' experiences of HIV and AIDS in rural South Africa," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(6), pages 1249-1259, September.
    2. Thurman, Tonya Renee & Snider, Leslie A. & Boris, Neil W. & Kalisa, Edward & Nyirazinyoye, Laetitia & Brown, Lisanne, 2008. "Barriers to the community support of orphans and vulnerable youth in Rwanda," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(7), pages 1557-1567, April.
    3. Abebe, Tatek & Aase, Asbjorn, 2007. "Children, AIDS and the politics of orphan care in Ethiopia: The extended family revisited," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(10), pages 2058-2069, May.
    4. Nyambedha, Erick Otieno, 2008. "Ethical dilemmas of social science research on AIDS and orphanhood in Western Kenya," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(5), pages 771-779, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kasedde, Susan & Doyle, Aoife M. & Seeley, Janet A. & Ross, David A., 2014. "They are not always a burden: Older people and child fostering in Uganda during the HIV epidemic," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 161-168.
    2. Campbell, Catherine & Skovdal, Morten & Mupambireyi, Zivai & Gregson, Simon, 2010. "Exploring children's stigmatisation of AIDS-affected children in Zimbabwe through drawings and stories," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(5), pages 975-985, September.
    3. Fournier, Bonnie & Bridge, Andrea & Pritchard Kennedy, Andrea & Alibhai, Arif & Konde-Lule, Joseph, 2014. "Hear our voices: A Photovoice project with children who are orphaned and living with HIV in a Ugandan group home," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 55-63.
    4. Skovdal, Morten, 2011. "Examining the trajectories of children providing care for adults in rural Kenya: Implications for service delivery," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(7), pages 1262-1269, July.
    5. Rock, Amelia & Barrington, Clare & Abdoulayi, Sara & Tsoka, Maxton & Mvula, Peter & Handa, Sudhanshu, 2016. "Social networks, social participation, and health among youth living in extreme poverty in rural Malawi," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 170(C), pages 55-62.
    6. Titeca, Kristof & Omwa, Samuel Samson, 2011. "Community-based initiatives in response to the OVC crisis in North Central Uganda," IOB Discussion Papers 2011.04, Universiteit Antwerpen, Institute of Development Policy (IOB).
    7. repec:eee:cysrev:v:77:y:2017:i:c:p:197-207 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Rachel Goldberg & Susan Short, 2012. "“The Luggage that isn’t Theirs is Too Heavy…”: Understandings of Orphan Disadvantage in Lesotho," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 31(1), pages 67-83, February.
    9. Betancourt, Theresa Stichick & Meyers-Ohki, Sarah & Stulac, Sara N. & Elizabeth Barrera, Amy & Mushashi, Christina & Beardslee, William R., 2011. "Nothing can defeat combined hands (Abashize hamwe ntakibananira): Protective processes and resilience in Rwandan children and families affected by HIV/AIDS," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(5), pages 693-701, September.


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