Looked-after children with HIV are let down by poorly trained social workers and residential staff and face rejection from foster carers, a report has found.
In a groundbreaking study published on World Aids Day, the Children and Young People HIV Network found ignorance and misconceptions about HIV among professionals and foster carers were “widespread”.
This means that the complex psychological, emotional and social needs of one of the most vulnerable groups of the care population often go unmet.
The organisation, based at the National Children’s Bureau, interviewed foster carers, social workers, residential children’s home managers and children living with HIV.
The lack of training has resulted in poor practice, including instances of professionals disclosing a young person’s HIV status without their consent, and a failure to recognise the importance of keeping to life-saving antiretroviral therapy regimes.
Many professionals are poorly prepared for ethical dilemmas, such as preventing young people from transmitting their infections through unprotected sex.
There were about 1,000 children accessing paediatric HIV health services in the UK in March 2007. Separate figures revealed 820 15- to 24-year-olds were diagnosed in 2006. More than half of these cases were caused by unprotected sex between heterosexuals.
However, the report found that most children in the UK with HIV had picked up the infection at birth or through breast feeding.
The report, Looking After HIV: Considering the Needs of HIV Positive Looked After Children, called on local authorities and voluntary organisations to produce clear guidance on information-sharing between agencies and maintaining the confidentiality of young people’s HIV status.
Other recommendations include basic awareness-raising for those working with looked-after children, and more specialised training on issues such as sexual health and the impact of stigma and discrimination.