• Ann Wrixon

Which Young Women in Foster Care are Most Likely to Become Pregnant




A study published in 2017 showed that the highest teen birth rates for foster youth in California were for young women who entered the system between the ages of 13 and 16, were in care for a relatively short period of time, lived in congregate care at the approximate date of conception, had a history of running away, and were Latina, Black or Native American.

According to the study, Predictors of Early Childbirth Among Female Adolescents in Foster Care, the “Research indicates that while child welfare involved populations have substantially higher rates of early pregnancy and parenting, the key risk factors for adolescent child birth such as poor school performance and low education among girls in foster care are similar to risk factors found in the general population [22]. This suggests that teen pregnancy interventions applied in the general population may be effective among adolescents in foster care, particularly when adapted to meet the specific needs of youth in care and the contexts in which they live. However, there is also a need for pregnancy prevention programs designed specifically for youth in foster care [28].” (p. 231)

A study published in 2010 of young women in foster care in the midwest may have important implications for California as it found that youth who chose to stay in extended foster care (California allows youth to stay in foster care until age 21) had a 47% drop in the likelihood of a foster youth becoming pregnant. In contradiction to the 2017 study cited above, however, they found that youth living in congregate care had a 55% lower chance of becoming pregnant. Paradoxically, the study also found that youth who had received family planning services were more likely to become pregnant. The researchers speculated that this result may be that the sexually active youth were more likely to receive these services.

Although the outcomes for the 2010 and 2017 research are at odds with each other regarding if congregate care increased, or decreased, the chance of pregnancy, the 2017 study focused on California foster care, and congregate care in California may be very different from congregate care in the midwest. The 2010 study showed that extended foster care dramatically lowered pregnancy rates. According the 2017 study of California female foster youth, 18% had given birth before the age of 20, but the study does not distinguish if these births are to youth in extended foster care or not. This would be an important area for further research.

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