Pathways to Health & Wellbeing: Social Networks of Orphans & Abandoned Youth

Globally, 153 million children are estimated to have been orphaned as defined by the death of one or both parents due to diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, maternal mortality, unintentional injuries, natural disasters and armed conflict: AIDS accounts for 16.6 million of these children. Little is known, however, about the social networks that have been informally established that may assist orphaned and abandoned children (OAC) as they transition from structured family care or residential facility settings to their adult lives.

The primary goal of this study is to determine key factors that may put youth at a disadvantage as they transition from structured care settings into their adult lives and those that support positive transitions. To accomplish this, researchers will study existing education and employment support networks as well as sexual communities. Researchers will then be able to determine how certain characteristics of these networks are associated with OAC health outcomes, including poor education, ability to generate income, and HIV risk-taking behaviors. Based on prior OAC-related research, this study expects to find that OAC networks are small and lack variability, leading to reduced access to education, fewer positive employment opportunities, and increased sexual-risk behavior. Findings will be used to construct potential interventions to promote OAC health and well-being.
This study will use a “network analysis approach” to identify major characteristics of OAC social and sexual networks. Researchers will then examine the association between network factors and OAC outcomes in two steps: examining the relationships between social network characteristics and education and income-generation outcomes, and between sexual network characteristics and HIV-risk outcomes. Researchers expect to learn which social and sexual network features are associated with poor outcomes, such as educational accomplishment, obtaining employment, and high sexual risk behavior. Such risk behaviors include an early age of sexual debut, a high number of sexual partners, and certain characteristics of the sexual partners themselves. This research will provide the basis for designing interventions to prevent disenfranchisement as OAC enter their adult lives. With this research, we will be able to learn how to effectively design community networks for OAC to prevent poor health and lifestyle outcomes.

Policy Implications:

  1. To determine if OAC network features account for success in educational, income generation, and sexual risk-taking behaviors
  2. To provide the basis for social network and sexual network interventions to reduce damage done to OAC to prevent disenfranchisement as OAC become adults.

Principal Investigator: Lynne Messer

Investigators: Bernard Agala, Cyrilla Amanya, Misganaw Eticha, Dafrosa Itemba, Rachel Manongi, Jim Moody, Vanroth Vann, Augustine Wasonga, Kathryn Whetten

Project Coordinator: Anna Both Koons