When extended families cannot take responsibility for orphaned children, the next option should ideally be the local community. Fostering and adoption are alternatives that allow a child to remain in a family setting, and the greatest continuity and security is provided if such options are available within the child’s own village or district. Foster families, whether spontaneously formed or formally arranged, need and deserve to be supported in their role by the wider community as well as through government services.
Community-based responses need mobilizing and reinforcing to ensure that the local community becomes a source of strength and support to orphaned children. Among the strategies that can help are:
- Sensitizing local leaders – including religious authorities, teachers and other prominent citizens – to the impact of HIV/AIDS on vulnerable children, mobilizing their support and encouraging them to counter the risks of abuse and exploitation.
- Fostering dialogue on HIV/AIDS within communities in order to dispel myths, combat ignorance and maximize the chances that people will respond to affected children’s needs with compassion. Children and adolescents can play a key role, exploring opportunities for discussion and community education in schools, religious gatherings and youth clubs.
- Organizing cooperative support for affected households. This can involve home visits, community day-care programmes or childcare to give caregivers some respite. The support can also be material, assisting vulnerable households through pooled funds.
- Ensuring that community responses are appropriate to children’s ages and stages of development.