For this research, the researcher relates to the ecological systems theory to explain the experiences of child headed households and how they survive in their everyday life where they are exposed to abuse, hunger, poverty, harm and lack parental-guardian relationship or guidance which is vital for child development.
Ecological systems theory
Bronfenbrenner developed his ecological systems theory to define and understand human development within the context of the system of relationships that form the person’s environment. The ecology of human development is the scientific study of the progressive, mutual accommodation throughout the life course between an active, growing human being and the changing properties of the immediate settings in which the developing person lives. Therefore; Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems theory is useful for organising factors that enhance individual resilience because each factor can be placed around an individual according to the proximity of the factor in relation to the individual’s ecosystem. Using this framework in relation to this study, one can evaluate effectiveness of within person characteristics, such as adaptive coping, and optimism, as well as factors external to the person, such as family support, neighbourhood networks, health provision, government financial support and so on for promoting individual resilience and the survival of child headed households.
Adopted from Bronfenbrenner
In the model following the above illustration, the individual interacts directly with people, ideas and things in his or her microsystem, which include family, peers and school systems. It describes how the different parts of an individual’s microsystem work together. This represents the interconnections or lack, between the individual’s microsystems; connections between home and work or school, for example, or between home and friends. For instance; In their microsystem children heading households, have no parents to help them learn values, attitudes of society and assist them in becoming self sufficient and to take care of themselves. The children adapt the parental role. Janes (2015) points out that children are not miniature adults and should not be treated as if they were. Therefore the absence of a parental figure leads to a situation where the child bypasses most stages of childhood as they take over the roles of parents and this has a lot of impact on their childhood and how they will manage to survive and at least feed themsleves and protect each other.
The second immediate layer, the mesosystem, comprises the linkages and processes taking place between two or more settings containing the developing person (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). In other words a mesosystem is a system of different microsystems such as home and school. What happens in a home for example, influences what happens in school, in society, their friendships and what children spend their time doing . In child headed families, there is a missing element and link whereby the parents provide in the network of interactions, protection and guidance is lacking. The breakdown of a child’s microsystem leaves a child without proper adult supervision (Chidziva, 2014). The children may have difficulties developing positive relationship with anyone outside their newly found family set up , they are often prone to abuse and put no effort in life.
According to Bronfenbrenner, (1994) The exosystem level includes the other people and places where an individual may not interact with often but that still have a large effect on her, such as spouse’s workplaces, extended family members, the neighbourhood, etc. For example, if an extended family member gets looses their job, this may have negative spillover effects to the children who might have been receiving support from this member. The exosystem hence comprises the linkages and processes taking place between two or more settings, at least one of which does not contain the developing person but can indirectly have a strong impact on the individual’s development. Children who live in child headed homes have challenges since there will not be a bread winner in the family. A lot of challenges will arise for example, schooling, feeding, housing and they may end up engaging in prostitution so as to raise funds.
Bronfenbrenner’s final level is the macrosystem. This is located furthest from the individual and is the largest, most remote set of people and structures and organisations which have a great influence over the person. The macrosystem may be thought of as a societal blueprint for a particular culture or subculture (Bronfenbrenner, 2004). It has to do with the economic, political and social stability of the country. In relation to the research, children from child-head households may if the country’s economy is poor fail to get assistance in terms of food or health services and they are bound to experience strain in their development. A chronosystem encompasses change or consistency overtime not only in the characteristics of the person but also of the environment in which that person lives for example change of the life course in family structure, socio-economic status, place of residence and ability in everyday life which might be as a result of death of a parent. Children who are left alone find themselves heading families. They take on new roles and responsibilities in keeping the family functioning in order to survive. Understanding of these interactions is the key to understanding how the surroundings partcicularly home and family set up can affect the development of the child.