A Population-Based Examination of Maltreatment History Among Adolescent Mothers in California
A history of sexual abuse and other forms of maltreatment have been linked to adolescent pregnancy, with notably higher rates reported among teens in foster care compared to the general population. Yet, no studies to date have determined the population prevalence of past child protective service (CPS) involvement among adolescent mothers. In this study, we used linked birth and CPS records from California to produce the first population-based estimates of the prevalence of documented maltreatment reports, substantiated victimization, and foster care placement among adolescent mothers.
Personally identifiable maternal information was extracted from California’s 2009 birth records for all women who gave birth and were 12-19 years of age. This information was used to probabilistically link adolescent mothers to CPS records. Three nonexclusive groups were generated based on the adolescents’ level of involvement: (1) one or more allegations of maltreatment; (2) one or more substantiated allegations; and (3) one or more foster care episodes. We determined the distribution of sociodemographic and health-related characteristics for the full population of adolescent mothers who gave birth in 2009 (race/ethnicity, age, prior births, onset of prenatal care, birth payment method, receipt of WIC, smoking). We used χ2 tests to compare the percentage of adolescents who had been previously referred, substantiated, or placed in foster care because of maltreatment across covariates.
In California in 2009, 47,816 adolescents 12-19 years of age gave birth to live singleton infants. Of those, 18,455 (38.6%) had a CPS record of alleged maltreatment victimization during the prior decade, 8,377 (17.5%) were substantiated as maltreatment victims, and 3,799 (8.0%) had spent time in foster care. Notable and statistically significant variations (p<. 05) in the prevalence of past involvement emerged across covariates. For Native American and Black adolescents—two groups disproportionately represented in California’s child welfare system—a majority of young mothers had been reported as possible victims of abuse or neglect (65.5% and 58.3%, respectively), and roughly 1 in 5 had spent time in foster care. Latino mothers accounted for nearly three quarters (74.3%) of all adolescent births. Among U.S.-born adolescent Latino mothers, 41.2% had a history of reported maltreatment victimization, compared to just 18.6% of foreign-born adolescent Latino mothers. Although only 2.8% of adolescents reported smoking during pregnancy, 64.9% of adolescents who smoked had been reported for maltreatment, 34.4% had been substantiated, and 20.2% had been placed in foster care.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS:
Although prior research indicates a heightened risk of early childbearing among adolescent women with a history of maltreatment, no studies have estimated the prevalence of past maltreatment and CPS involvement among adolescent mothers. This descriptive analysis used linked birth and CPS records to provide the first population-based estimate of adolescent mothers reported for maltreatment, substantiated as victims, and placed in foster care. Understanding the relationship between maternal maltreatment and early childbearing risk and subsequent parenting capacity is critical to the development of responsive service interventions. Future research should more fully explore the dynamics of past CPS involvement and replicate this analysis by using data from other states.