Child adults / adult children : growing up in KZN.
Although it is acknowledged in the Southern African literature that children living in conditions of poverty have always assumed more household responsibilities, the AIDS epidemic has exacerbated this and significantly changed the nature of childhood as an increasing number of children face life without parents. The study sought to gain insight into the experiential lives of six “child” heads of households and their siblings and to explore, in particular, how they construct their sense of self and family. For the purposes of the study a child-headed household was deemed a household in which a child of 18 or under or still in school was the household head in the absence of any other dependable, permanent adult figure. The study used a narrative approach and thematic analysis and the results emerging from the children's accounts of themselves were focused around the core themes of adult responsibility in the absence of adult status and relationships with adults in the extended family and wider community. The idea of children or adolescents competently running households, taking responsibility for themselves and their futures and adopting a more democratic and shared means of decision making, further challenges conventional conceptions of the „borders‟ between childhood and adulthood and family structure that have been contested and shifting through history. However, being on the front line of social change comes at a cost. Challenging society's popular understanding of children as passive, dependent and innocent positions these young people outside of the norm and what they report is that they feel alone, unheard and victimised. The findings are discussed within the context of Burman's critique of psychology's traditional theoretical notions of universal and innately driven development and a re-conceptualisation of children‟s experiences in terms of the context in which they live, and Crossley's perspective on narrative which emphasises agency grounded within cultural forms of sense-making. A new way of discussing these unconventionally structured families is also presented through the reconfiguration of relationships between family members, recognising connections that span generations and across different household spaces.