Programs designed to help adolescents cope with a parent's HIV infection can improve the teens' own health and well-being, according to new a University of California, Los Angeles, study. "Psychosocial interventions can improve health outcomes, and the impact lasts at least six years for adolescent children of parents living with HIV," said lead researcher Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus. Such programs may benefit society as well: Teens who participated in the coping study were less likely to become teen parents and go on public assistance, said Rotheram-Borus.
Approximately 125,000 U.S. children have lost at least one parent to AIDS, with an estimated 15,000 parents dying each year. At least 750,000 children currently live with an HIV-infected parent. Together with the New York City Division of AIDS Services, Rotheram-Borus and colleagues studied 395 adolescents with an HIV-infected parent--most from homes headed by an African-American or Latina single mother--over a period of six years. About half of the families were randomly assigned to the coping program, in which teens learned skills for dealing with negative emotions, preventing risky sexual activity and drug use, and planning their future. Other families were assigned a social worker and received the usual HIV services provided but did not participate in the coping program.
After six years slightly more than half the parents had died. Despite losing a parent, teens who went through the coping program faired much better than other teens in several areas. Teens in the coping program were more likely to be in school or working and less likely to be on welfare. Compared to teens who had not gone through the program, the teens in the coping program reported healthier romantic relationships, better problem-solving skills in their relationships, and higher expectations of their romantic partners. They were also somewhat less likely to become teenage parents. Parents, too, benefited. After four years parents who participated in the program were less likely to relapse into substance abuse.
The full report, titled "Six-Year Intervention Outcomes for Adolescent Children of Parents with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus," appears in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. (Reuters)