Fostering Success Among Pregnant and Parenting Foster Youth
A recent report titled California’s Most Vulnerable Parents: A Population-Based Examination of Youth Involved with Child Protective Services captures the existing need to provide services and resources to a vulnerable and often forgotten population—pregnant and parenting foster youth. Combing through Child Protective Services (CPS) and birth records, the authors pieced together a picture of parenting foster youth in California’s foster youth system. The report reveals an unsettling truth that a large percentage of parenting youth are victims of abuse or neglect, and foster youth are more likely than their non-foster youth peers to become pregnant before the age of 20.
While teen pregnancy in the United States has declined by more than 40 percent during the last two decades, foster youth have an increased likelihood of becoming teen parents. According to the report, more than 25% of girls in foster care at age 17 had given birth at least once during their teens. Among foster youth with a first birth before age 18, more than one in three went on to have a second teen birth.
There are a number of societal factors contributing to intended and unintended pregnancies among foster youth. First, motherhood can bestow a purpose of life and opportunity to be part of a family for both foster and non-foster pregnant and parenting youth. The birth of a child can ignite the desire in a teen mother to pursue a better life for herself and her new family. Thus, not all pregnancies among foster youth are unintended.
The lack of comprehensive sex education tailored to the needs of foster youth factors into the high rate of pregnancies for this vulnerable population. Foster and non-foster youth are better served when they receive comprehensive sex education both at school and at home. However, youth in foster care encounter barriers both at school and within the foster system that make them less likely to access comprehensive sex education despite being more likely than non-foster youth to become pregnant. In order to address the report’s findings, these barriers to sex education need to be eliminated.
Fortunately, California’s pregnant and parenting foster youth will soon receive services that support their parental capacity as young parents. Senate Bill 528, signed by Governor Brown in 2013, expanded on California’s Foster Youth Bill of Rights by stating that foster youth have a right to age-appropriate medically accurate information about sexual development, reproductive health, and prevention of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Social workers are authorized to provide foster youth with this information. The bill added language that specifically authorizes social workers to provide this information, and added to the Foster Youth Bill of rights that they have a right to this information. The new law will also close an information gap by ensuring that complete and accurate data on parenting foster youth and their children is collected.
California needs to ensure that foster youth—an especially vulnerable population—has the information and skills for avoiding unintended pregnancy and also the support and services that are essential for them to thrive if they do become young parents.
Angelica Salceda is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Fenwick & West.