Methods: This qualitative, narrative study uses data from in-depth interviews with 20 parenting youth in foster care who are participating in an evaluation of the Illinois Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Care Home Visiting Pilot. The sample includes young mothers who were in foster care and either pregnant or parenting a child under age one at the time of enrollment. The study sample is predominantly first time mothers (n = 19) who are African American (n=18). Their ages range from 15 to21-years-old.
Findings: The parenting identities of young mothers in foster care are deeply shaped by the child welfare system through processes of institutionalization. Young mothers describe being required to engage in parenting services, abide by system rules, and having to access resources from the child welfare system to materially provide for their children. Further, the parenting identities of young mothers in foster are also shaped by their child welfare placement. This is especially true for young mothers placed in congregate care settings where their parenting is under a high level of surveillance by program staff.
Conclusion and Implications: This study contributes to our theoretical and empirical knowledge about the role of institutionalization in parental identity formation for systems-involved youth. The findings suggest a need for child welfare and family support providers to address the unique conditions of institutionalization as it relates to parental identity development. They also highlight the importance of providing access to parenting supports outside of the child welfare system and the need for additional investigation of how child welfare system policies and practices influence parenting behaviors among parenting youth in foster care.