Abstract: Emerging into Parenthood While in Foster Care: Determinants of Early Pregnancy and Impregnation By Age 21 (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Emerging into Parenthood While in Foster Care: Determinants of Early Pregnancy and Impregnation By Age 21

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 8, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Justin Harty, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Huiling Feng, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Sunggeun Park, MS, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Mark Courtney, PhD, Samuel Deutsch Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Federal legislation mandates that states prepare foster youth for leaving care, however preparing youths for early pregnancy/impregnation is not mandated (Hook & Courtney, 2013). Foster youth are much more likely to experience early pregnancy/impregnation compared to their non-foster care peers (Svoboda et al., 2012). Experiences such as substance use, infrequent birth control use, placement instability, and leaving care prior to extended foster care have been found to be predictors of early pregnancy/impregnation among foster youth (Dworsky & Courtney, 2010; King & Wert, 2017; Oshima, Narendorf, McMillen, 2013). However, antecedents of pregnancy vary between studies and research focuses on females in care. This study aims to better understand determinants of early pregnancy among transition-aged foster youth, both females and males, to provide better informed guidance to child welfare systems delivering sexual health and family planning services to transition-age youth.

Methods: This study uses administrative data from the California Child Welfare Department and CalYOUTH data from the first three survey waves of a representative and longitudinal study of California transition-age foster youths conducted in 2013, 2015, and 2017 when youths were approximately 17, 19, and 21 years old. Our sample includes 616 youths (375 female, 241 male) who participated in the first and the third waves of the youth survey. Dependent variables capture self-reported measures of whether female youth had ever been gotten pregnant, or if male youth had ever got a female pregnant, between the first and the third surveys (between ages 17 and 21). Logistic regression was used with a wide range of explanatory variables, including youths’ demographics, foster care history and experience, social support, and county-level factors. Analyses were run separately for female and male youths given the distinct developmental and life course experiences between the two groups.

Results: Between the ages 17 and 21, 49.5% of female youths reported becoming pregnant, and 30.3% of male youths reported impregnating a female, at least once. The odds of becoming pregnant were significantly higher among female youths with a pregnancy history before age 17, more frequent placement changes before age 18, and no desire to remain in care after age 18 (i.e. extended foster care). The expected odds of impregnating a female were higher among male youths with an impregnation history before age 17, who identified as Hispanic (compared to Black), had any mental health disorder symptoms, and received sexual health services (e.g. prevention of STIs and practicing safe sex).

Conclusions and Implications: This study is among the first to find empirical evidence for predictors of both female and male foster youths’ pregnancy and impregnation experiences with a representative sample. Given the sizable proportion of youths experiencing early pregnancy/impregnation, it is vital that attention is focused on mitigating antecedents of unplanned pregnancy/impregnation among foster youth. Future research should examine how consequences of early pregnancy, impregnation, and childbirth may interfere with parenting foster youths’ ability to meet the employment or educational requirements of extended foster care and further complicate the transition to adulthood.