In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Early Pregnancy and Parenthood Among Child Welfare–Involved Youth

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Incidence and Prevalence
  • Predictors of Pregnancy and Childbirth among Youth with Child Welfare Involvement
  • Predictors of Pregnancy and Childbirth among Youth in Foster Care
  • Contexts and Experiences Leading to Early Pregnancy and Childbirth
  • Adolescents’ Experiences of Pregnancy and Parenting in Care
  • Outcomes among Young Parents with Child Welfare Involvement
  • Intergenerational Maltreatment and/or Child Welfare Involvement
  • Contexts that Inform Responses to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting
  • Interventions, Programs, and Services for Preventing Unintended Pregnancy
  • Providing Supports to Young Parents with Child Welfare Involvement

Social Work Early Pregnancy and Parenthood Among Child Welfare–Involved Youth
Bryn King, Ami Goulden, Kineesha William
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0307


Adolescent pregnancy and childbirth among young people involved with child welfare is an issue that has received increasing scholarly attention. As teen birth rates in the general population have decreased, the focus has shifted to groups who are more at risk for early pregnancy and childbirth and who experience greater vulnerability once they become parents. Research has consistently documented higher teen birth rates among youth with current or historic involvement in child welfare compared to other youth, and this has been linked to their socioeconomic circumstances, histories of maltreatment and trauma, and experiences within the system, particularly foster care. Young parents who have been involved with child welfare or in foster care experience greater vulnerability than other young parents, but their new role as parents present substantial opportunities for growth and renewal. Despite that promise, their children experience a higher likelihood of second-generation maltreatment and/or involvement in child welfare than children born to young parents in the general population. Services have been developed and are being evaluated that promote sexual and reproductive health and potentially prevent unintended pregnancy, as well as support the complex multidimensional needs of adolescent parents involved in the child welfare system.

General Overviews

The works in this section provide more general overviews of early pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting among child welfare–involved youth, as well as articulating the complexity of these events. While Barn and Mantovani 2007 and Purtell, et al. 2020 are examples of specific contexts under which this population might get pregnant and give birth, Connolly, et al. 2012 synthesizes qualitative studies that have examined these issues. Eastman, et al. 2019 focuses on predictors of early childbirth as well as service needs and outcomes for young parents. Geiger and Schelbe 2014 reviews policies and programs that could address early pregnancy and parenting among foster youth. Silver 2015 provides an ethnographic example of the lived experiences of parenting youth in the child welfare system, and Shaw, et al. 2010 provides a comprehensive and multidimensional view of pregnancy and parenting among youth in care.

  • Barn, R., and N. Mantovani. 2007. Young mothers and the care system: Contextualizing risk and vulnerability. British Journal of Social Work 37.2: 225–243.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcl002

    A mixed-methods study exploring the outcomes of adolescent mothers after leaving foster care in the United Kingdom. Findings suggest that risk factors related to early childbirth were high levels of family disruption, lack of continuity of care, and placement in residential care.

  • Connolly, J., M. Heifetz, and Y. Bohr. 2012. Pregnancy and motherhood among adolescent girls in child protective services: A meta-synthesis of qualitative research. Journal of Public Child Welfare 6.5: 614–635.

    DOI: 10.1080/15548732.2012.723970

    A meta-synthesis of qualitative research on pregnant and parenting adolescents with care involvement. Ambivalence about motherhood, mistrust of others, social stigma, and barriers to comprehensive sexual education were among the themes identified.

  • Eastman, A. L., L. Palmer, and E. Ahn. 2019. Pregnant and parenting youth in care and their children: A literature review. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal 36.6: 571–581.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10560-019-00598-8

    Literature review summarizes studies published between 2011 and 2017 related to pregnant and parenting mothers in foster care, and focuses on risks for pregnancy and parenting, outcomes, and service needs for adolescents who give birth in care.

  • Geiger, J. M., and L. A. Schelbe. 2014. Stopping the cycle of child abuse and neglect: A call to action to focus on pregnant and parenting youth in and aging out of the foster care system. Journal of Public Child Welfare 8.1: 25–50.

    DOI: 10.1080/15548732.2013.824398

    An overview of policies and programs supporting adolescents in foster care in the United States. The highlights suggest that federal policies fail to address early childbirth explicitly, and programs fail to provide comprehensive sexual education, pregnancy prevention and support, and parenting education.

  • Purtell, J., P. Mendes, and B. J. Saunders. 2020. Care leavers, ambiguous loss and early parenting: Explaining high rates of pregnancy and parenting amongst young people transitioning from out-of-home care. Children Australia 45.4: 241–248.

    DOI: 10.1017/cha.2020.58

    This study tests the relevance of Ambiguous Loss theory in understanding how removal from families of origin and placement experiences may affect young people in out-of-home care and lead to “wanted” pregnancies. The authors conclude that there is significant evidence that many young people feel an emotional need to have a family, but little education to help the care leavers access safe sex education and prevent unplanned pregnancies.

  • Shaw, T. V., R. P. Barth, D. V. Svoboda, and S. Naeem. 2010. Fostering Safe Choices final report. Baltimore: University of Maryland.

    Comprehensive report on the Fostering Safe Choices project conducted in Maryland. Report content includes literature reviews on adolescent pregnancy and childbirth among foster youth and best practices for prevention, demographic analysis of the youth population in Maryland that generated estimates of births to youth in care, expert interviews and surveys with child welfare workers, and focus groups with foster youth.

  • Silver, L. J. 2015. System kids: Adolescent mothers and the politics of regulation. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

    DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469622590.001.0001

    This book describes the findings from a two-year ethnographic study of a Supervised Independent Living program for adolescent mothers involved in the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems. The study generates insights into the complexity of the lived experiences of these young mothers, the frontline staff working in these settings, and the policy and practice contexts that facilitate and obstruct young mothers’ ability to parent and move towards adulthood successfully.

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