Pregnancy and Parenting Among Youth Transitioning from Foster Care: A Mixed Methods Study

Abstract

Background

Over 400,000 children and youth are in foster care at any given time in the United States, with nearly one-third exiting care between ages 13 and 20. Pregnancy among women in this population is nearly double national averages, with one-third becoming pregnant by age 17 and nearly half of those experiencing repeat pregnancies by age 19. Research is needed about the sources of formal and informal information and support foster care youth receive about pregnancy and parenting, their access to and use of contraception, and the involvement of fathers/non-custodial parents in raising children.

Objective

The purpose of the current study was to better understand the experiences of foster care youth to inform policy and practice recommendations that address the high rate of unintended pregnancies and early parenting among youth transitioning from foster care.

Methods

This is a secondary analysis of data from a mixed-method study with a concurrent explanatory design including survey and focus group data. Complete survey responses included 81 participants (female n = 61; male n = 20) between the ages of 18–25, and 9 females took part in two focus groups.

Results

Sexual experiences were common for foster care youth and they reported few educational opportunities and supportive relationships. Themes that emerged from the focus group discussions centered on socialization about reproduction, social support, and parenting.

Conclusions

Access to educational opportunities and supportive personal relationships were lower than what would be expected from national estimates of non-foster care youth. Findings from both the survey and focus group data suggest enhancing programs for foster care youth with a specific focus on education and support for reproductive health, pregnancy, and parenting.

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Acknowledgements

This project was made possible by an Annie E. Casey Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting Support grant. Funding was provided via the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP Grant #g17003.115) to the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa, which issued a subcontract to Iowa State University. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Foundation. We are grateful for Child Welfare Research and Training Project (CWRTP) staff Kate Goudy and Jo Ann Lee for their contributions to project conceptualization and review of survey and focus group questions. We thank Sara Ray for her data analytic and writing support. We also appreciate Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology (CSSM) staff Janice Larson for consultation on survey question development and design.

Funding

This project was made possible by an Annie E. Casey Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting Support grant. Funding was provided via the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP Grant #g17003.115).

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Correspondence to Heather L. Rouse.

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All authors declare that they do not have any potential conflicts to report in the form of grants, employment by, consultancy for, shared ownership in, or any close relationship with, an organization whose interests, financial or otherwise, may be affected by the publication of the paper. Drs. Heather Rouse and Janet Melby take responsibility for the integrity of the quantitative data and accuracy of the quantitative data analysis; Dr. Tera Jordan accepts responsibility for the quality of focus group data and pertinent analyses. Tera R. Jordan publishes scholarly work using her maiden name, Tera R. Hurt.

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Rouse, H.L., Hurt, T.R., Melby, J.N. et al. Pregnancy and Parenting Among Youth Transitioning from Foster Care: A Mixed Methods Study. Child Youth Care Forum (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10566-020-09567-0

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Keywords

  • Transitioning foster youth
  • Pregnancy
  • Parenting
  • Mixed methods