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July 2016Vol. 17, No. 5Special Focus: HIV Awareness

A diagnosis of HIV is stressful for the entire family, and HIV-positive parents who are anxious about their own health and functioning can become more stressed in their parental role. Minority groups, such as African-Americans and Latinos, are disproportionately affected by the epidemic, which can further exacerbate the already disproportional rates of involvement with child welfare systems these minority populations face.1

The effect on children varies. Research shows they face unique challenges specifically related to their parents' HIV status, including misconceptions about transmitting HIV, fear of prejudice and discrimination, family disruption, and lack of planning for their future care.2 Some, like other children with a seriously ill parent, are vulnerable to emotional and behavioral difficulties. Others may assume a caretaking role, which could lead to missing school, poor school performance, and increased anxiety and distress from their new, adult-like responsibilities.

Professionals can help families cope by providing comprehensive services and making sure attention is paid to cultural issues while serving families affected by HIV/AIDS. Given the high rates of HIV/AIDS among African-Americans and Latinos, interventions tailored to the unique needs of these populations are critical. Programs should offer multicultural staff, bilingual client materials, culturally relevant services, and culturally competent staff, among other things. In addition to catering to the unique cultural needs of different populations, child welfare professionals should:

  • Make sure that parents who test positive for HIV receive immediate counseling and support to help them understand and cope
  • Provide educational resources and ensure that children and parents know how HIV can and cannot be transmitted
  • Educate parents on ways to plan for their child or children's future through options like standby guardianship


Child Welfare Information Gateway

National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center

Murphy, D.A., Marelich, W.D., Armistead, L., Herbeck, D.M., & Payne, D.L. (2010). Anxiety/Stress among mothers living with HIV: Effects on parenting skills & child outcomes. Retrieved from (336 KB).
2 RAND Health. (2009). How parental HIV affects children. Retrieved from