The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Parenting Under Pressure: Struggles With Parenting Faced By Youth Aging Out of the Child Welfare System

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 6:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Lisa Schelbe, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Jennifer Mullins Geiger, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Chereese Phillips, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose:  Approximately 25,000 youth ‘age out’ of the child welfare system in the United States annually. Studies have repeatedly shown that foster youth transitioning into adulthood experience more difficulties than their peers who have never been in foster care in areas such as homelessness, poverty, physical and mental health, early childbearing and pregnancy. Early childbearing and adolescent parenting have been shown to pose a significant risk for a variety of poor psychosocial and economic outcomes, including child maltreatment and poverty. There is very little research on the parenting experiences of youth aging out despite presenting as a high risk group of parents as a result of their history of abuse/neglect, high adolescent pregnancy rates, and poor psychosocial outcomes. 

Methods:  This study is part of a larger ethnography of youth aging out of the child welfare system exploring how youth negotiate the transition out of the child welfare system. The principal investigator observed and interviewed youth aging out and service providers over a two year period. Study participants include 34 youth (ages 18-23; 22 females, 12 males; 32 African American, 2 White) aging out of the child welfare system in a Mid-Atlantic city. Observation occurred in multiple settings including agencies, youths’ apartments, and community settings. Twelve youth were interviewed about their experiences of aging out including and raising their child(ren). Data include transcriptions of interviews and detailed fieldnotes from observations. Data analysis was an inductive, iterative process involving coding, memoing, and discussions among the research team.

Results: Overwhelmingly, youth expressed feeling love for their children. They wanted to be good parents and took great pride in being parents. Although many of them shared that they had not planned on becoming a parent so young, having a child gave many of the youth a sense of purpose, as is reflected in comments about their children being a motivator for continuing their education or pursuing better employment. Parenting was incredibly stressful, and with limited resources and experience, youth reported struggling and feeling immense pressure. Many of the youth possessed limited parenting skills. Youth had limited support in general and often had conflicts with the child’s other parent. The fear of their children being involved with the child welfare system was great, and several youth had their children removed from their care and placed in out of home care.  

Conclusion and Implications: Youth aging out are vulnerable group at risk of a variety of poor outcomes and those who have children are potentially at risk of maltreating their own children. Through understanding the experiences of parenting youth aging out, better practices and policies that meet their needs as well as their children’s can be developed.  Youth aging out express feeling great pressure as parents. Providing additional support and incorporating parenting skills into life skills development while in care is a practice that should be considered. This research reinforces the need to provide services for those youth who are pregnant in an effort to prevent child abuse and neglect and enhance parenting skills.