UJ education researchers examine child-headed households and vulnerable children

​​​​​​​​Educational, psychological and social care needs of orphans and vulnerable children were highlighted at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Wednesday, 22 July 2015.

Jace Pillay, a professor in education psychology and holder of the South African National Research Foundation Research Chair (SARChi) in Education and Care in Childhood, together with his research team presented their research findings on orphans and vulnerable children. The team conducted qualitative studies to assess factors of vulnerability (risks, pathology) and factors of protection (resilience, assets, strengths) that are prevalent in the education and care of orphans and vulnerable children as embedded in their families/caregivers, schools and communities.

“There is an alarmingly, large number of children in schools, who are from child-headed families or who support their families and younger siblings. Many of these children lost their parents to HIV and AIDS related illnesses. Children are vulnerable from a material, social and psychological perspective,” said Prof Pillay.

The research team looked at children’s daily lives as orphans and how much depression, anxiety and stress they experience in their families, communities and schools. The aim was to identify and develop psychological and educational support interventions for the children. The researchers also studied the children’s families and their experience of being raised in single-parent or divorced families, and where there are no adults supervising the children – where children raise children.

Prof Pillay pointed out that there is a tendency amongst child-headed households not to disclose that they are living on their own. “Often these children are victimised and exploited. In some cases families collect the social grants and the child-headed household never receives the money,” said Prof Pillay.

The roles of stakeholders at schools and the provincial and national Departments of Education were also researched to establish ways other government departments can assist to improve the situations of vulnerable children at schools. This includes the roles of civic, NGO and religious organisations, and how these support orphans and vulnerable children.

“The involvement of children in educational research is paramount. We need to address these issues relating to young people right now, because they are the future leaders of the country and they need to be prepared for that. What happens to them and how they think about that will impact the future economy of the country,” says Prof Pillay.

Prof Pillay’s researcher team:
Dr Charmaine Leatham, an educational psychologist working in diverse communities. Her research study focused on Gendered Experience of African Adolescent Girls from Child-Headed Households and Social Contexts.
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