An evaluation of the summer camp organised by the Children’s HIV Association (CHIVA) for 12-16 year olds living with HIV in the UK showed modest but statistically significant improvements in some psychological measures, six months after camp. Findings are reported in AIDS Care and Children and Youth Services Review.
The support camp is offered each summer to adolescents living with HIV. It is a week-long, residential intervention. The aims of the camp are to address isolation and facilitate peer friendships, increase knowledge and understanding of living with HIV, and improve confidence and self-esteem. Activities include creative workshops, sports, role play and advice on disclosure, and workshops on HIV transmission, sexual health and rights. The team running the camp included a social worker, a nurse, child participation experts, volunteers aged 18-24 who are living with HIV (‘camp leaders’) and older volunteers (‘key workers’).
In 2015, 49 of the 77 young people who attended the camp completed surveys before, immediately after and six months after the camp.
Measures of HIV knowledge improved after the camp and were maintained six months later (p = < 0.001). A series of questions to assess beliefs and feelings about sharing one’s HIV status showed an increase in responses supportive of disclosure, again maintained six months later (p = < 0.001).
However, intentions to disclose and actual disclosure behaviour did not change, nor did all of the psychological and behavioural variables that were measured.
In-depth interviews with eleven of the young people, conducted six weeks and six months after completion of the camp, showed that meeting new people also living with HIV was the main reported advantage of the camp. A 12-year-old girl said:
“My friends were all in the corridor and we would just stay up late and sit in the hallway talking and we could talk about anything. We could be talking about the past and all the stuff that we wouldn't talk to our normal friends about.”
Participants used social media to stay in touch and form online support networks after the camp. They learnt from each other during camp activities, as this 15-year-old male explained:
“The workshop helped me out… because people had like stories… and it made me realise that everyone's been through this. I thought I was the only one.”
Several interviewees reported increased confidence, a more positive self-image and increased autonomy. For many, the camp helped them normalise living with HIV, as this 13-year-old girl described:
“I don't see it as such a negative thing, like I don't see it as a big thing anymore. Now I feel like I'm ok with what I have, you have to live with it in order to be healthy and… I'm just taking [my medication] consistently now.”
The researchers say that their data suggest that brief residential interventions have the potential to facilitate sustained change in psychological outcomes for young people living with HIV.