The orphans of Aids

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AIDS is creating a new generation of orphans in Britain, writes Michael Durham. Their parents have the Aids virus, HIV. By the year 2000, thousands of these children will be affected by the death of one or both of their parents, according to a leading charity, the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children.

Tomorrow, the charity will launch the first fostering and adoptive service for children whose parents die of Aids. It needs carers who are prepared to share in the children's bereavement and fight the stigma likely to attach to the children. There is thought to be about a one-in-six chance of an HIV-positive mother passing on the infection to a baby. There are therefore likely to be many more healthy children than infected ones born to parents with HIV.

Jeanne Kaniuk, principal social worker in the charity's adoption service, said: 'We have to make sure people know what they are taking on. It is no easy task looking after a child whose parents have just died of Aids.'

The new parents will usually meet the child's real parents at a late stage in their illness and help to share the childcare.

'If one of the parents is showing signs of the onset of Aids, we will want to find a family as soon as possible,' Ms Kaniuk said. 'It is impossible to say how long it would last. In one case, where a mother had cancer, she died within 48 hours of meeting the foster parents. The new parents will share in all the grief.'