The pregnancy rate for teenage girls in the Texas foster care system is nearly five times higher than the state’s average, says a new study.
The 30-page Fostering Healthy Texas Lives study by advocacy from Texans Care for Children takes a hard look at the reality of teenage pregnancy for girls ages 13-17 in foster care. Its authors say they sought to “explore challenges facing youth in foster care, shine a light on current practices and programs that are working well, and identify clear steps for Texas policymakers and communities to prevent pregnancy and better support pregnant and parenting foster youth.”
The study found that the one year pregnancy rate for girls ages 13 to 17 in Texas foster care is 5.7 percent compared to 1.2 percent for girls in the same age range not considered at-risk. Overall, one out of 20 girls ages 13 to 17 becomes pregnant in any given year. Additionally, more than half of the teenage girls who exit the system become pregnant before they turn 20. Last year, 332 of these female teens were pregnant. Another 218 already were parents. Furthermore, the data highlighted that these pregnant teens were less likely to receive prenatal care, putting them at-risk for having low birth weight babies.
Researchers attributed higher pregnancy rates to instability in foster care, youth lacking loving and supportive relationships, and trauma, often caused through neglect or abuse. They found multiple placements in homes, for some youths, contributed to elevated rates. The report cited a 2010 national survey that revealed 41 percent of youth in conservatorship believed the reason teen pregnancy was higher for them was because they wanted to fill an emotional void and feel loved by someone.
The report suggested a generational pattern of poverty and children placed into foster care, referencing a 2012 study that showed babies born to youth formerly in foster care were more than two times as likely to end up in the state’s custody than infants born to other teen mothers. Last year, 48 infants born to mothers in foster care were placed into the state’s system.
The authors outlined approaches to address teen pregnancies and support those young parents living in foster care — prevention through education on healthy relationships; access to health services, both to prevent teen pregnancy and ensure healthier pregnancies and babies; and support and coach pregnant and parenting strategies for these youths to break the cycle.
“The state of Texas took responsibility for serving as the temporary parent of these kids when it removed them from their families, and that responsibility includes helping them stay healthy and be effective parents if they have a baby during their teen years,” said Kate Murphy, Senior Child Welfare Policy Associate at Texans Care for Children, in a prepared statement on Monday. “Many Texas leaders recognize that this is an important issue, but our research shows that it needs to be a higher priority.”
Texans Care for Children is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on children’s issues. They created the report based on national and state data from such organizations as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the parent agency for Child Protective Services. Researchers also reviewed current state programs and policies; and conducted surveys, focus groups, and interviews with youth in or recently released from foster care, as well with adults, health professionals, and providers within the state’s system.
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