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Need help with telling children mom has HIV

Nov 8, 2005

Hello- I need some help on a touchy subject. I am a stepmother of two Children- Male-12 yrs old; Female- 13 yrs old- they came to live with me and their father about 2-3 years ago when their mother became addicted to heroin/crack/cocaine- since then their mother has been in and out of their lives- disappearing for a few months then calling when she is clean- then out again- the last time she cleaned up was about 3 months ago and we invited her over to dinner- in hopes to show the kids we didn't want to keep them from her- but we did not trust her enough for them to go places with her- after the dinner she disappeared again for about 2 months- and missed the boy's birthday- she recently called last week and told her daughter she was dying and had been in the hospital and didn't know how much time she had left- but she would not tell her daughter what she had- My husband called her and she stated she tested positive for HIV, HEp B & Hep C- she insisted we tell the kids immediately- I called her then to find out what stages she was in- and she said she was not to the point she had to take medication and her Hep B &C were nonactive- I explained to her that we were trying to research more for when we talked to the kids- that we needed to know before we could explain to them- and that we were there to support her, but we had to be sensitive to how the children would react- My husband and I have worked hard to bring stability, honesty and safety to these children- and I am so scared and clueless on how to tell them this news. From what I have read so far- she is at the beginning stages of HIV and could live 15-20 years if she took care of herself- I still don't know for sure if she is still using drugs- she claims she isn't, but I don't trust her much. I wonder if you could help me better understand so I can help these kids through this- is there anyone I can talk to? Thank you- any help is much appreciated.

Response from Dr. Horwath

The best approach is to inform yourself about HIV as much as you can and then explain it in a direct way to the kids. Some important points include: 1) she is at the beginning stages of HIV, in which many people have 10 years or more without symptoms or illness, 2) if her HIV infection does progress, there is now excellent treatment to prolong her life and help her to remain functional, and 3) her prognosis depends a lot on whether she can stop the drug use and take the necessary steps to regain and then maintain her health.

It would also be helpful to inform the kids that her drug abuse is also an illness for which she needs treatment. Once someone becomes dependent on drugs of abuse, they have progressively less control over their use unless they can get effective treatment to help them detox and rehabilitate themselves.

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