Methods: This analysis used a longitudinal, population-based dataset constructed by probabilistically matching California child protective service records for female foster youth to mothers on birth records for children born in the state over a ten-year period. The population was restricted to those who were in an active foster care placement at any point during their pregnancy. Foster care placement history during adolescence was assessed one month prior to their estimated date of conception and experiences during their pregnancy were tracked through birth. Differences at each time point were examined with respect to demographic characteristics (age at entry, race/ethnicity) and trajectories in foster care (care status, placement type, placement stability, length of stay, and history of running away).
Results: Among the 1,853 adolescents who spent time in foster care during pregnancy, 59% were in an active foster care placement at baseline. About half were Latina, and over half were between the ages of 15 and 16 when they entered care. Of those in care at baseline, most were living in non-relative foster care, but nearly a quarter were in congregate care. Most had been in care for over a year, and high levels of placement instability were common. Indeed, nearly half had run away at least once. Among those not in care at baseline but entered afterwards, 65% remained in care through the birth, despite the fact that most moved multiple times during their pregnancy. On the other hand, among those in care at baseline, 59% had left care at some point during their pregnancy. Of those who exited during pregnancy, most reunified or aged out of care. Among those who stayed in care until their child was born, most were living in non-relative foster care or with kin, but that varied by placement status at baseline.
Conclusions and Implications: The results of this analysis indicate that most adolescents who spend time in foster care during pregnancy experienced long stays in care characterized by substantial instability or came into care while pregnant and experienced multiple moves during their relatively brief time in care. Further, many leave care before giving birth. These findings suggest that interventions for pregnant adolescents in care should account for these circumstances and should ensure that access to reliable and consistent prenatal support services are available throughout pregnancy.