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Analysing conceptions of Zulu kinship system in present times and their influence on orphaned children’s education in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

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The kinship care system is the preferred option, should it become necessary for a child to be removed from home and placed within a safe environment. It is the least restrictive and most family-like out-of-home placement. This study explored the lives of children in KwaZulu- Natal, who have been orphaned or are otherwise vulnerable, in relation to the Zulu kinship care system. Orphanhood has become widespread because of the HIV&AIDS pandemic, though there are also other contributing factors. The main purpose of the study was understanding how the children adapt to a life living with extended family because of being orphaned. The second purpose of the study aimed to find out why the children who have extended families are sent to live in an institution and how they understand both their family circumstances and their present context. The study design is a qualitative case study, designed with an interpretive paradigm. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems framework provided the lens for this study. This examines a child’s development within the complex “layers” of environment, each influencing a child’s development. The framework provided a way of approaching and analysing the data. There were 45 orphaned child participants, primarily girls, between the ages of 15 and 18, who were living with their caregivers, 25 of whom were also interviewed. The orphaned children were selected from three high schools in KwaDukuza area of KwaZulu- Natal; selection was undertaken on a systematic sampling basis. In addition, nine children were selected from a childcare facility in Durban, as well as a social worker from the same facility. The data collection strategies included focus group discussions with caregivers, individual interviews with participating teachers and a social worker as well as drawings and interpretation with children. Interviews with caregivers in a township revealed that the families themselves were poor and humble yet had been open to accepting yet another child to care for. The most significant finding is that the Zulu kinship system continues to operate but is under severe stress, and at times is not serving to protect children to the extent needed. The pattern of families intervening to protect and care for children in difficulties still continues, as indicated in the township settings; the caregivers report on their care as a labour of love that entails sacrifice. However, there is evidence from children that, while that is true of some situations, other placements are subject to abuse and exploitation. In many cases the care is inadequate simply because of the poverty of the family. The impact of poverty on schooling, and the degree of ostracism within schools, is a constant problem. In some families, the system has failed to the point that the only option for vulnerable and orphaned children is institutional care. Children in care report fully on the abuse and neglect that led to their placement, while most of those who had been placed with the extended family had enjoyed family life before the loss of parents. An additional finding was on the central role of mothers and on the frequent absence of fathers, before the loss of parents, as well as the major role played in the extended families by grandmothers. Significantly, despite the evidence of abuse and despite the evidence that institutional care was supportive and warm, children in care expressed a longing for family, even some children from families that had failed them completely. There is clearly, as recommended, a pressing need for ongoing visits by a social worker to orphaned children placed with extended families, given the extent of abuse revealed. In terms of further research, proposals are made to explore areas that would buttress the capacity of the kinship system in relation to social work and school, and to understand the possibilities for intervening before families lose their capacity for care.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.