Examining the Family Networks of HIV+ Women in Drug Recovery: Research Challenges and Opportunities

Tuesday, 14 July 2009: 1:45 PM

Victoria B. Mitrani, PhD1
Nomi S. Weiss-Laxer, MPH, MA1
Christina E. Ow, BA2
Daniel J. Feaster, PhD2
1Nursing and Health Studies, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
2Center for Family Studies, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, Miami, FL

Learning Objective 1: enumerate the challenges and opportunities involved in HIV/AIDS research within a family context, especially when the “patient” is an adult.

Learning Objective 2: appreciate the potential of the family identification form (FIF) as a tool for describing and tracking the family network of HIV+ women.

Purpose: HIV/AIDS is recognized as affecting and being affected by the family.  HIV+ women in drug recovery and their families are particularly at risk due to family disruption and stigma.  Yet research on family and HIV/AIDS is hampered by the challenges of defining the family, engaging family members into research, and tracking changes in family composition.  This paper describes the Family Identification Form (FIF) as a tool for family research and presents descriptive findings on 144 predominantly African American HIV+ women in substance abuse recovery from a randomized clinical trial of a family intervention.

Methods: The FIF was administered to women who were screened for the clinical trial to identify family members for a companion study on family mechanisms.  Family was defined to include the women’s household members, romantic partners, children and their caregivers, and others identified as a major source of support.

Results: The women reported on a total of 651 family members.  Just over half (55%) of the women’s family network enrolled in the family mechanisms study.  The majority of women lived alone, with a partner, in a nuclear family or they were raising children alone.  Among the women’s minor children, the majority did not live with their mother and were not in her custody.  Over the yearlong follow-up period, custody arrangements and romantic partnerships remained relatively stable; however, nearly half of the women experienced household composition change.

Conclusion: Our hope is that researchers will not be deterred by the considerable challenges of conducting family-level investigations so that knowledge and interventions can be advanced.  Areas for further research and consideration for adapting this method to other nationalities are discussed.