Volume 46 - Article 30 | Pages 865–904  

“One hand does not bring up a child:” Child fostering among single mothers in Nairobi slums

By Cassandra Cotton, Shelley Clark, Sangeetha Madhavan


Background: Childrearing in sub-Saharan Africa is often viewed as collaborative, where children benefit from support from kin. For single mothers living in informal settlements, kin networks may be highly dispersed and offer little day-to-day childrearing support, but may provide opportunities for child fostering.

Objective: Our study uses a linked lives approach, where single mothers’ connections with kin and romantic partners may influence whether – and what type of – kin are relied on to support child fostering.

Methods: We leverage an innovative survey on the kin networks of 404 single mothers and 741 children, collected in 2016, and 41 in-depth interviews conducted in 2011 and 2013, to explore fostering among single mothers in Korogocho and Viwandani, two slums in Nairobi, Kenya.

Results: Quantitative findings show 6.2% of single mothers’ children are fostered, with provision of emotional support associated with lower likelihood of fostering. Both quantitative and qualitative results reflect strong reliance on maternal kin. Maternal kin play a key role in fostering to protect children, to fulfill traditional lineage obligations, and due to their willingness to foster when others will not.

Contribution: This study contributes to a growing body of research on the role of kin in contemporary fostering arrangements in sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, we highlight fostering among a potentially highly vulnerable group: the children of single mothers in slum settlements. Sending children to live with kin may be an important coping strategy for single mothers, both to reduce the burden of raising children alone and to provide children with opportunities to grow up outside the slums.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Measuring extended families over time in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya: Retention and data consistency in a two-round survey
Volume 38 - Article 44

Transitions to adulthood in urban Kenya: A focus on adolescent migrants
Volume 28 - Article 37

Household structure vs. composition: Understanding gendered effects on educational progress in rural South Africa
Volume 37 - Article 59

Impact of conjugal separation on women’s income in Canada: Does the type of union matter?
Volume 35 - Article 50

Pragmatic tradition or romantic aspiration? The causes of impulsive marriage and early divorce among women in rural Malawi
Volume 35 - Article 3

Working with teams of "insiders": Qualitative approaches to data collection in the Global South
Volume 32 - Article 12

Extra-marital sexual partnerships and male friendships in rural Malawi
Volume 22 - Article 1

The implications of long term community involvement for the production and circulation of population knowledge
Volume 17 - Article 13

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

The formal demography of kinship V: Kin loss, bereavement, and causes of death
Volume 49 - Article 41    | Keywords: bereavement, causes of death, competing risks, kin loss, kinship, matrix models

The dynamic role of household structure on under-5 mortality in southern and eastern sub-Saharan Africa
Volume 49 - Article 11    | Keywords: child mortality, Health and Demographic Surveillance System, household structure, sub-Saharan Africa

Comparative evidence of years lived with reproductive-age morbidity in sub-Saharan Africa (2010‒2019)
Volume 49 - Article 6    | Keywords: life expectancy, maternal morbidities, reproductive age, sub-Saharan Africa

Women's economic empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from cross-national population data
Volume 47 - Article 15    | Keywords: agency, Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), economic growth, education, employment, sub-Saharan Africa, women's economic independence

The formal demography of kinship IV: Two-sex models and their approximations
Volume 47 - Article 13    | Keywords: female fertility, kinship, male fertility, matrix models, sex ratio, two-sex models