Young mothers with child welfare involvement are often expected to participate in programs that provide support and education around issues pertaining to child development, parenting approaches, and resource navigation with the goal of preventing future child maltreatment. However, most programs that address the above-mentioned issues are not specifically designed and delivered for young mothers involved with child welfare. Young mothers have unique experiences compared to their older counterparts including their personal developmental milestones; increased financial, educational, and familial stressors; peer relationships; and stigma. Programs not specifically targeted to young mothers overlook these particular challenges and may not be significantly effective in reducing risk factors for child welfare involvement. The purpose of the scoping review was to synthesize existing literature and examine what is known about programs for young mothers involved with child welfare in Canada and the United States to inform policy and practice in this area.
The scoping review protocol was designed using the five-stage methodological framework created by Arksey and O’Malley (2005). The research team developed an extensive search strategy with support from a health sciences librarian to search the following databases: CINAHL, Child Development and Adolescent Studies, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Social Work Abstracts, NASW Clinical Register, PsycINFO, ERIC, Sociological Abstracts, and ASSIA. The search was supplemented with grey literature from Google Scholar and experts in the field. The inclusion criteria were that the (1) program was designed for parents aged 15 to 24 years old; (2) program serves mothers with current or potential child welfare involvement; (3) studies are published in English; and (4) programs were delivered in Canada or the United States. All results were screened by two independent reviewers and all disagreements were reviewed by the principal investigator.
Nineteen hundred and eighty-seven articles were identified in the search results and fifteen studies were included in the scoping review. Three-quarters of the programs were delivered in the United States. Program evaluation methods differed among studies and included quantitative (60%), qualitative (33%), and mixed-methods methodologies (7%). There was diversity among the programs in terms of their relationships with child welfare, service delivery approaches, length of support, and client goals. For example, most programs targeted young mothers involved with child welfare as their priority population (73%), even though there was no formal relationship between the program and child welfare. The findings suggest program characteristics that may benefit young mothers with child welfare involvement: the incorporation of peer support initiatives, the explicit intention to create therapeutic alliance between the service provider and the mother, and prolonged service delivery that continues for at least one year.
Conclusions and Implications:
The scoping review results suggest that current initiatives to meet the needs of young mothers involved with child welfare is lacking, even though current programming does not translate well to the population. There are implications for social work education, research, practice, and policy as the review offers several program components that were effective for young mothers with child welfare involvement and identifies areas for future research.