The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

Incidence and Predictors of Early Childbearing Among Adolescent Girls in Foster Care

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 8:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Bryn King, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Emily Putnam-Hornstein, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Joseph Magruder, PhD, Research Associate, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Barbara Needell, PhD, Research Specialist, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA

Female youth in foster care often face considerable challenges as they transition to adulthood, including homelessness, limited educational and vocational prospects, delinquency, and high rates of substance use and mental heath difficulties. Prior research indicates that early parenting is also more common among current and former foster youth than among non-foster youth, but no studies to date have utilized population-based vital birth record data to measure the incidence of childbearing among girls in foster care. This presentation will describe the prevalence of first births among female foster youth (ages 12-18) in California between 2006 and 2010 and identify demographic characteristics and foster care experiences that impact the risk of giving birth while in out of home care.


This analysis is based on a unique dataset constructed by probabilistically matching California child protection records for all female youth in foster care between 2006 and 2010 to maternal information available on vital birth records for children born during these same years. Chi-square test statistics were generated to compare female youth in foster care who did and did not give birth during a foster care episode across covariates. Generalized linear models were specified to assess the likelihood of childbearing while in foster care. Multivariable models included multiple individual-level characteristics and experiences during foster care to determine which factors impacted this risk. Findings are reported as both crude and adjusted measures of relative risk (RR) with corresponding 95% confidence intervals.


Of the 37,666 adolescent girls who were in foster care between 2006 and 2010, 4.4% gave birth to their first child while they were still in care. Significant variations (p<.001) were observed in the proportion of girls giving birth while in care across individual-level characteristics and experiences. Among youth who gave birth while in care, 32.4% were Black and 47.9% were Latina, while only 16.7% were White. Those who entered care as very young children or adolescents, were in foster care longer, experienced more placement disruptions, were placed with non-kin foster families or in congregate care, reentered care, and ran away from placement were also overrepresented among those that gave birth while in care. When simultaneously modeling for all covariates, late entry into care (RR: 2.46; 95% CI: 2.04-2.97); placement instability (RR: 2.83; 95% CI: 2.32-3.46); and placements with kin (RR: 2.54; 95% CI: 2.10-3.08), non-kin foster families (RR: 2.49; 95% CI: 2.07-3.00), or in congregate care (RR: 2.04; 95% CI: 1.66-2.51) emerged as significant and substantial risk factors.


The results indicate that although only a small proportion of female foster youth gave birth to their first child while they were still in care, there are individual-level factors that impact the likelihood of childbearing, including race, age of entry, length of stay, placement stability, and placement type. Understanding the risk and protective factors related to early childbearing among foster youth can inform preventive interventions that promote reproductive health and maximize opportunities for girls in foster care to achieve other critical social and developmental goals before deciding to parent.