Methods: This qualitative, narrative study uses data from in-depth interviews with 29 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 to 21-years-old.
Findings: Young mothers experience child welfare system surveillance and the threat of child removal as key features of their transitions to parenthood. Young mothers make meaning of their identities as mothers through their perceptions of child welfare system rules and surveillance, through the threat of child removal, and for some mothers, their experiences of their children being placed in foster care (n=6). Young mothers narrate how their parenting decisions, mothering identities, and parent-child relationships are influenced by their experiences with their child welfare system involvement.
Conclusion and Implications: This study contributes to our empirical knowledge of the transition to parenthood for young parents in care. The findings suggest a need for child welfare providers to consider how young parents experience child welfare system surveillance and the persistent threat of child removal in how child welfare staff are trained to support this population of young parents and their children. They also highlight the need for additional investigation of how young parents experience child welfare system policies and practices during the transition to parenthood.