Religion and Caregiving for Orphans and Vulnerable Children: A Qualitative Study of Caregivers Across Four Religious Traditions and Five Global Contexts


Studies of caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) rarely examine the role religion plays in their lives. We conducted qualitative interviews of 69 caregivers in four countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Cambodia, and India (Hyderabad and Nagaland), and across four religious traditions: Christian (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant), Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu. We asked respondents to describe the importance of religion for their becoming a caregiver, the way in which religion has helped them make sense of why children are orphans, and how religion helps them face the challenges of their occupation. Using qualitative descriptive analysis, three major themes emerged. Respondents discussed how religion provided a strong motivation for their work, reported that religious institutions were often the way in which they were introduced to caregiving as an occupation, and spoke of the ways religious practices sustain them in their work. They rarely advanced religion as an explanation for why OVC exist—only when pressed did they offer explicitly religious accounts. This study has implications for OVC care, including the importance of engaging religious institutions to support caregivers, the significance of attending to local religious context, and the vital need for research outside of Christian contexts.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.


  1. Ano, G. G., & Vasconcelles, E. B. (2005). Religious coping and psychological adjustment to stress: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology,61(4), 461–480.

  2. Bakibinga, P., Vinje, H. F., & Mittelmark, M. (2014). The role of religion in the work lives and coping strategies of Ugandan nurses. Journal of Religion and Health,53(5), 1342–1352.

  3. Blanchard, T. C., Bartkowski, J. P., Matthews, T. L., & Kerley, K. R. (2008). Faith, morality and mortality: The ecological impact of religion on population health. Social Forces,86(4), 1591–1620.

  4. Brewer-Smyth, K., & Koenig, H. G. (2014). Could spirituality and religion promote stress resilience in survivors of childhood Trauma? Issues in Mental Health Nursing,35(4), 251–256.

  5. Darkwah, E., Daniel, M., & Asumeng, M. (2016). Caregiver perceptions of children in their care and motivations for the care work in children’s homes in Ghana: Children of god or children of white men? Children and Youth Services Review,66, 161–169.

  6. Deneulin, S., & Rakodi, C. (2011). Revisiting religion: Development studies thirty years on. World Development,39(1), 45–54.

  7. Deneulin, S., & Zampini-Davies, A. (2017). Engaging development and religion: Methodological groundings. World Development,99, 110–121.

  8. Ellison, C. G., Boardman, J. D., Williams, D. R., & Jackson, J. S. (2001). Religious involvement, stress, and mental health: Findings from the 1995 Detroit Area Study. Social Forces,80(1), 215–249.

  9. Ellison, C. G., & Levin, J. S. (1998). The religion-health connection: Evidence, theory, and future directions. Health Education and Behavior,25(6), 700–720.

  10. Faigin, C. A., & Pargament, K. I. (2011). strengthened by the spirit: Religion, spirituality, and resilience through adulthood and aging. In: Resilience in aging (pp. 163–180). Springer, New York.

  11. George, L. K., Ellison, C. G., & Larson, D. B. (2002). Explaining the relationships between religious involvement and health. Psychological Inquiry,13(3), 190–200.

  12. Gojer, A., Gopalakrishnan, R., & Kuruvilla, A. (2017). Coping and spirituality among caregivers of patients with schizophrenia: A descriptive study from South India. International Journal of Culture and Mental Health,1, 11.

  13. Govender, K., Penning, S., George, G., & Quinlan, T. (2012). Weighing up the burden of care on caregivers of orphan children: The Amajuba District Child Health and Wellbeing Project, South Africa. AIDS Care,24(6), 712–721.

  14. Herrera, A. P., Lee, J. W., Nanyonjo, R. D., Laufman, L. E., & Torres-Vigil, I. (2009). Religious coping and caregiver well-being in Mexican-American families. Aging and Mental Health,13(1), 84–91.

  15. Hsieh, H.-F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis. Qualitative Health Research,15(9), 1277–1288.

  16. Ice, G. H., Yogo, J., Heh, V., & Juma, E. (2010). The impact of caregiving on the health and well-being of Kenyan Luo grandparents. Research on Aging,32(1), 40–66.

  17. Jarvis, G. K., & Northcott, H. C. (1987). Religion and differences in morbidity and mortality. Social Science and Medicine,25(7), 813–824.

  18. Kidman, R., & Thurman, T. R. (2014). Caregiver burden among adults caring for orphaned children in rural South Africa. Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies,9(3), 234–246.

  19. Kniss, F., & Campbell, D. T. (1997). The effect of religious orientation on international relief and development organizations. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,36(1), 93–103.

  20. Koenig, H. G. (2009). Research on religion, spirituality, and mental health: A review. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry,54(5), 283–291.

  21. Kotarba, J. A. (1983). Perceptions of death, belief systems and the process of coping with chronic pain. Social Science and Medicine,17(10), 681–689.

  22. Kuo, C., Fitzgerald, J., Operario, D., & Casale, M. (2012). Social support disparities for caregivers of AIDS-orphaned children in South Africa. Journal of Community Psychology,40(6), 631–644.

  23. Lv, Y., Zhao, Q., Li, X., Stanton, B., Fang, X., Lin, X., et al. (2010). Depression symptoms among caregivers of children in HIV-affected families in rural China. AIDS Care,22(6), 669–676.

  24. Malhotra, M., & Thapa, K. (2015). Religion and coping with caregiving stress. International Journal of Multidisciplinary and Current Research (Vol. 3) Retrieved May–June 2015 from

  25. Muliira, R. S., & Muliira, J. K. (2011). Health-promoting practices and the factors associated with self-reported poor health in caregivers of children orphaned by AIDS in southwest Uganda. African Journal of AIDS Research,10(4), 479–486.

  26. Padmavati, R., Thara, R., & Corin, E. (2005). A qualitative study of religious practices by chronic mentally ill and their caregivers in South India. International Journal of Social Psychiatry,51(2), 139–149.

  27. Park, C. L. (2005). Religion as a meaning-making framework in coping with life stress. Journal of Social Issues,61(4), 707–729.

  28. QSR International. (2017). NVivo qualitative data analysis software (Version 11.0). QSR International Pty Ltd.

  29. Rammohan, A., Rao, K., & Subbakrishna, D. K. (2002). Religious coping and psychological wellbeing in carers of relatives with schizophrenia. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica,105(5), 356–362.

  30. Sandelowski, M. (2000). Whatever happened to qualitative description? Research in Nursing and Health,23(4), 334–340.

  31. Sandelowski, M. (2010). What’s in a name? Qualitative description revisited. Research in Nursing and Health,33(1), 77–84.

  32. Schnable, A. (2016). What religion affords grassroots NGOs: Frames, networks, modes of action. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,55(2), 216–232.

  33. Swidler, A. (1986). Culture in action: Symbols and strategies. American Sociological Review,51(2), 273.

  34. Weaver, A. J., & Flannelly, K. J. (2004). The role of religion/spirituality for cancer patients and their caregivers. Southern Medical Journal,97(12), 1210–1214.

  35. Whetten, K., Ostermann, J., Pence, B. W., Whetten, R. A., Messer, L. C., Ariely, S., et al. (2014). Three-year change in the wellbeing of orphaned and separated children in institutional and family-based care settings in five low- and middle-income countries. PLoS ONE,9(8), e104872.

Download references


This study was funded by a Grant from Saint Louis University and the John Templeton Foundation as part of their “Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research Across the Disciplines” Project. We would like to thank: Augustine Wasonga, Ira Madan, Misganaw Eticha, and Mao Lang for their leadership at international child well-being NGOs; Dean Lewis, Tewodros Abera, and Lynn Akinyi for their financial oversight; the study participants for their time and insight; Blen Biru, Morgan Barlow, and Andy Elkins for project coordination and data collection, coding, and organization.

Author information

Correspondence to David E. Eagle.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors whose names are listed immediately below certify that they have NO affiliations with or involvement in any organization or entity with any financial interest (such as honoraria; educational grants; participation in speakers’ bureaus; membership, employment, consultancies, stock ownership, or other equity interest; and expert testimony or patent-licensing arrangements), or non-financial interest (such as personal or professional relationships, affiliations, knowledge or beliefs) in the subject matter or materials discussed in this manuscript.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Eagle, D.E., Kinghorn, W.A., Parnell, H. et al. Religion and Caregiving for Orphans and Vulnerable Children: A Qualitative Study of Caregivers Across Four Religious Traditions and Five Global Contexts. J Relig Health (2019).

Download citation


  • Orphaned and vulnerable children
  • Caregivers
  • Religion
  • Religion and occupational well-being
  • International
  • Buddhism
  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Hinduism