Programs for Adolescents With HIV-Positive Parents May Improve Teenagers’ Health, Emotional Well-Being, Study Says
Programs that help adolescents whose parents are HIV-positive cope with their parents' illness also may improve teenagers' health and emotional well-being, according to a study published in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Reuters Health reports. Approximately 15,000 parents in the United States die from AIDS-related causes annually, and 125,000 U.S. children have lost a parent because of AIDS-related illness. More than 750,000 children in the United States have a parent who is living with HIV/AIDS (McKinney, Reuters Health, 8/3). Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus of the AIDS Institute and Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California-Los Angeles and colleagues studied 307 HIV-positive parents and their 423 adolescent children (Rotheram-Borus et al., APAM, August 2004). Approximately half of the families were enrolled in a program to help the teens learn skills to cope with their parents' illness, including how to manage negative emotions, plan for the future and prevent unsafe sexual behavior and drug use. The remaining families did not participate in the coping program but did receive standard services provided to families affected by HIV/AIDS, including being assigned a social worker (Reuters Health, 8/3).
Over a six-year period, the researchers measured school enrollment, employment, receipt of public welfare, early parenthood, mental health and the quality of romantic relationships among the adolescents. The researchers found that significantly more teenagers in the coping program -- 82.6% compared with 68.9% -- were employed or in school and were less likely to receive public welfare payments. In addition, those in the coping program were more likely to report improved problem-solving and conflict resolution skills in their romantic relationships; expect their partner to have adequate employment; and expect to be married before having children. They also were less likely to report psychosomatic symptoms, according to the study (APAM, August 2004). Although more than half of parents in the study died during the six-year period, adolescents in the program were still "doing much better" than the other teenagers, according to Reuters Health. "Psychosocial interventions can improve health outcome, and the impact lasts at least six years for adolescent children of parents living with HIV," Rotheram-Borus said (Reuters Health, 8/3). The researchers concluded that health care providers should consider the emotional and social effects of a parent's illness on their children and provide necessary counseling (APAM, August 2004).