Background: Recent studies have questioned whether orphanhood is primarily associated with key dimensions of psycho-social wellbeing in children living in circumstances of material deprivation and high prevalence of HIV and AIDS.
Methods: This study uses cross-sectional data from a longitudinal study conducted between 2004-2007 to examine the psychosocial well-being of orphans and non-orphans in the Amajuba District of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Psychosocial wellbeing included an assessment of orphans' and non orphans' level of anxiety and depression, affability and resilience. Stratified cluster sampling, based on both school and age, was used to construct a cohort of recent orphans and non-orphans and their households, randomly selected from schools.
Results: Levels of anxiety and depression, affability and resilience did not differ significantly between orphans and non-orphans, nor did salient household, poverty and caregiver characteristics vary substantially amongst orphans and non-orphans. Multivariate analyses indicated that children's psychosocial outcomes, when controlling for orphan status and related demographic variables were more strongly influenced by household composition/size, living above or below the poverty threshold and factors associated with the caregiver-child relationship and caregiver health.
Conclusions: The results muster additional evidence for moving beyond narrow definitions of vulnerability associated exclusively with orphanhood to consider the multitude of material, social and relational factors affecting the psycho-social well-being of children in general who are living in circumstances of poverty and HIV and AIDS.