Research has shown that there are a variety of reasons why a sibling group may live on its own. It may be the only way to remain together, the best way to retain the use and ownership of their parents’ land and home, or the only option available.
Some child-headed households are supported by extended family members and others are entirely on their own. A child-headed household may be extremely vulnerable, or it may have strong family and community links and living in acceptable circumstances. External agencies must consider carefully how best to support a child-headed household or whether an alternative care option would be better. Direct provision of aid by an outside organization has been shown to undermine community support to child-headed households, and some agencies have found that the best way to provide care is through community structures.
Child-headed households typically require support in order to ensure their access to basic health, nutrition, shelter, and education. They will also need legal protection in order to receive information on inheritance and property rights. Governments must consider how to ensure such services are available and how child-headed households can be supported in a comparable way to kinship or foster care arrangements. Any social assistance policy must take care not to encourage separation from adult caretakers.
Child-headed households are best protected when included in the community and its activities. Projects should not isolate children in such households and should work to empower them to gain greater control over their futures e.g. via education and vocational training.
The literature contained here gives an overview of the situation of child headed households in various settings, and examples of child care policies required in supporting them.