School connectedness as psychological resilience factor in children affected by HIV/AIDS
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Children affected by HIV/AIDS are at high risk for poor mental health outcomes. Social and psychological connectedness to school has been identified as an important resilience factor for youth affected by adversity. Defined as 'belief by students that adults in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals' school connectedness has been shown to be associated with higher academic performance, increased mental health, and quality of life. However, few studies have examined school connectedness in sub-Saharan Africa, and none have examined school connectedness in relation to mental health in children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Further, existing studies have relied on self-report measures. Against this background, the aim of the current study was to examine orphan status, school connectedness, and their interaction in relation to child mental health by using a multimethod design. 750 children between the ages of 7-11, recruited through South African community-based organizations (224 AIDS/HIV orphans, 276 non-AIDS/HIV orphans, 250 non-orphans; 51.2% girls), completed measures of school connectedness; children, caregivers, and teachers reported on child well-being using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. AIDS/HIV and non-AIDS/HIV orphans reported lower school connectedness than non-orphans. However, results demonstrated significant relations between school connectedness and overall mental health regardless of group, suggesting that school connectedness buffers against negative mental health outcomes regardless of orphan status. This study identifies a strategic point of intervention to build resilience against the cascading effects of HIV/AIDS and poverty in children in sub-Saharan Africa.