foster care

Researchers assessed risk factors that contributed to a higher rate of early childbirth among adolescents in foster care and found that ethnicity, age at entry into care, and type and length of care were the main contributors to a higher risk of early childbirth.


While birth rates to adolescents declined over the past two decades in the USA, the risk of early pregnancy among adolescents in foster care is still high. There are some well-known risk factors of pregnancy in adolescence, such as sexual or physical abuse, poverty and school failure. However, in order to decrease the risk of foster care related adolescent pregnancy and to target preventive interventions, it is important to determine the population-specific risk factors that may contribute to a higher rate among girls in foster care.

An article on the risk factors of early childbirth among girls in foster care was recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers included data from girls in California who were born between 1989 and 1993 and spent time in foster care after their 10th birthday. Of 30399 girls, 5567 (18%) gave birth between 12 and 19 years of age. 11% of the girls who gave birth were under 16 years, 41% were between 16 and 17 years, and 48% were between 17 and 19 years old. The risk of adolescent birth was significantly higher among Latinas, black and Native American girls and those who entered care between the age of 13 and 16 years. Furthermore, girls who were placed in congregate care at the time of conception, had been in care for less than 12 months, and had run away from a placement had a higher risk for early childbearing as well. Birth rates were also somewhat elevated among adolescents who experienced maltreatment, such as sexual or physical abuse, caretaker absence and general neglect or those who had behavioral challenges.

In conclusion, the study determined several risk factors contributing to the high childbirth rate of adolescents in foster care. This knowledge may help policy makers and caregivers to identify those at the highest risk for early pregnancy and encourage targeted preventative measures.


Written By: Dr. Fanni R. Eros

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