Teen pregnancy in foster care

Life has been lonely for Shaniqua since April when her 1-year-old daughter was placed in foster care by the New York Administration for Children Services. Since then, she has spent every night without the one person she loves the most. However, family separation is nothing new for this young mom. She has been in and out of foster care herself since she was 14-years-old.

“I still go through it, I still find myself crying at night, and my mother get’s upset because she knows. She went through the same thing with me, and my twin brother. I can’t just pick up the phone and say ‘hey, where’s my baby, how is she doing?’ or talk to her.”

Shaniqua, whose name cannot be fully identified for privacy reasons, is now 20 and living in a group home provided by the New York Foundling Hospital, which provides services for young women and their babies. She will age out next year, but in the meantime is fighting to get custody of her child.

This is just one consequence many teen mothers in the system could face with lack of proper guidance and support.

Although the U.S stands as having the largest number of teen pregnancies among the world’s industrialized countries, in recent years national studies have shown an overall decrease. However, this does not stand true for those in foster care, where teen pregnancy is on the rise.

Teen pregnancy among young people in foster care is not new, but recently, researchers, services providers and policymakers on both the state and federal level, have taken notice and are working to help curb the rise in pregnancies within this at risk population.

“There has been very instrumental movement just the past three years,” explained ChapinHall researcher at the University of Chicago, Amy Dworksy. “I think before it wasn’t on peoples’ radar screens,”

“There has been very instrumental movement just the past three years,” explained ChapinHall researcher at the University of Chicago, Amy Dworksy. “I think a lot of it is awareness, until recently most people didn’t think this was an issue.”

This particular issues shows that teens in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant by age 19, compared to those outside of foster care, a study supported by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy indicated.

Experts say it is primarily the lack of adult support that is leading researchers to believe that the more adults who get involved, the better the chances for young people to delay pregnancy.

“Some youth in foster care don’t feel that they have an adult in their life that is constant, explained Itege Bailey, Senior Manager of State and Local Outreach at the National Campaign for Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Approximately 100, 000 female foster youth are at risk of becoming pregnant, according to a report published in 2009 by Dworsky.

Many of these young mothers, says Dworsky, also want to build families of their own to show that they can create the family unit their parents could not provide for them, which is an issue contraceptives cannot solve.

“If you desire your own family, someone to love you, those are really critical, said Dworksy, who has conducted one of the latest studies called the ‘Midwest Study, which focuses solely on young people in foster care. “You can give them all the contraception in the world but if they want to have babies, you need to address the contraceptive issues, but also all of the psychological factors that lead them to want to get pregnant.”

Although the National Campaign is in the process of working with organizations around the nation, another aspect of pregnancy prevention awareness it has to consider are the differences in value systems around the U.S where conservative communities may shy away from talking about sex.

“In Oklahoma we don’t talk about sex. I think providers are uncomfortable talking about it,” said Teressa Kaemmerling, Assistant Program Director at the University of Oklahoma National Resource Center for Youth Services, who just received a grant to update a curriculum called ‘Power Through Choices,’ geared toward educating teens about pregnancy prevention. “This curriculum is designed around prevention and making informed decisions and when it is the right time to become sexually active.”

“Although state and local child welfare systems have programs to address the special needs for foster youth who are pregnant and parenting, comparatively little has been done to help foster youth avoid teen pregnancy and early parenthood,” is what Dworksy said in her remarks for a congressional roundtable in 2009.

Currently, there is very little research that has been done about pregnant and parenting teens in foster care, but Bailey explained that with more awareness, money is being allocated toward future research for this population.

Several research organizations and service providers say with more research on this population, they can see what works and what doesn’t among these youth.

“I think there is a lot of research [on pregnant and parenting teens], but how many are going to address the issue of foster kids? I don’t know how many,” said Dworsky. “But it’ll be better than what we have now, which is basically nothing.”