Caring and thriving: an international qualitative study of caregivers of orphaned and vulnerable children and strategies to sustain positive mental health


Background Child well-being is associated with caregiver mental health. Research has focused on the absence or presence of mental health problems, such as depression, in caregivers. However, positive mental health – defined as the presence of positive emotions, psychological functioning, and social functioning – likely prevents depression and in caregivers may benefit children more than the mere absence of mental health problems. Little attention has been given to how caregivers sustain positive mental health, particularly when doing challenging work in impoverished settings. Objective The study’s objective was to determine what successful caregivers of orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) in diverse countries do to sustain their positive mental health. Methods Using a mixed-methods, cross-sectional study design, trained local interviewers recruited a convenience sample of OVC caregivers through residential care institutions from five geographic regions (Kenya; Ethiopia; Cambodia; Hyderabad, India; and Nagaland, India). Participants completed surveys and in-depth interviews about strategies used to sustain their mental health over time or improve it during challenging times. Results Sixty-nine OVC caregivers from 28 residential care institutions participated. Positive mental health survey scores were high. We organized the strategies named into six categories ordered from most to least frequently named: Religious Practices; Engaging in Caregiving; Social Support; Pleasurable Activities; Emotion Regulation; and Removing Oneself from Work. Prayer and reading religious texts arose as common strategies. Participants reported promoting positive emotions by focusing on their work’s meaning and playing with children. The similar findings across diverse regions were striking. Some differences included more emphasis on emotion control in Ethiopia; listening to music/singing in Kenya and Hyderabad; and involving children in the tasks the participants enjoyed less (e.g., cleaning) in Cambodia. Conclusions Under real-world conditions, small daily activities appeared to help sustain positive mental health. In addition, fostering structures that allow caregivers to engage regularly in rewarding caregiving tasks may be an affordable and scalable idea which could potentially benefit caregivers, children, and employers.

Children and Youth Services Review