Chicago Tribune Examines ‘Unexpected Challenges’ of Raising HIV-Positive Teens
The Chicago Tribune on Sunday examined the "unexpected challenges" that some parents of HIV-positive teenagers face. According to the Tribune, "thousands of parents who adopted" children living with HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s "had not planned" on the children surviving into adolescence and adulthood.
Before the introduction of antiretroviral drugs, between one-fourth and one-third of children who contracted HIV through mother-to-child transmission died by age two, and one-half lived to at least age nine, according to CDC. Since then, several studies conducted among HIV-positive infants who began antiretrovirals by age six months found no deaths after two to five years. "This is the frontier," Diana Bruce -- policy director at the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families -- said, adding, "We have never before dealt with these kids. They used to die and now they are not."
Parents of teens living with HIV/AIDS face the "usual struggles" associated with adolescence but at a "heightened intensity," the Tribune reports. Some HIV-positive teens experience depression and other mental health problems, skip school, resist antiretrovirals and struggle with telling friends about their HIV status. In addition, some parents of HIV-positive teens often wonder what will happen to their children when they die. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in 2004 began support groups for parents and teens affected by HIV/AIDS and sponsored a retreat for HIV-positive teens. The agency has plans to expand the program.
There are no data available on how many HIV-positive teens are being raised by adoptive parents, but a 2003 study in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes found that HIV-positive mothers in the U.S. who died between 1980 and 1998 left behind 20,715 HIV-positive children. IDCFS placed about 30 HIV-positive children in adoptive homes in 1989, the first year it worked with the population, according to Specialty Services Administrator Elizabeth Monk. More than 40 children who were placed in adoptive homes died of AIDS-related causes between 1986 and 1996, compared with 17 in the next decade. The most recent recorded death of a child in IDCFS care was in 2004, the Tribune reports (Casillas, Chicago Tribune, 4/6).