When young women in foster care have access to financial assistance for education, they are less likely to have first and repeat births, according to research findings highlighted in Factors Associated With First and Repeat Births Among Females Emancipating From Foster Care, an article from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and recently published in the social science journal Children and Youth Services Review.
The article — coauthored by Tammi Fleming, a Casey senior associate; Jim Casey Young Fellows Blanca Goetz and Sheila VanWert; Svetlana Shpiegel of Montclair University; Lisa Mishraky of the Center for the Study of Social Policy; and researchers from the University of Maryland and the University of Toronto — sheds new light on a frequently overlooked population that often lacks a network of caring, supportive adults.
This research underscores the need for child welfare systems and communities to help alleviate the obstacles that young people aging out of foster care face, so they have better chances at reaching their educational and vocational potential and providing a safe and nurturing environment for their children.
“Young mothers — and young fathers — want to be good parents and they know that a good education is a solid foundation that can enable them to create the conditions for a strong family,” Fleming says. “We must do more to ensure that these young parents — as well as those who are not yet parenting — have the educational supports they need to succeed.”
Factors Related to Parenting
The study analyzes factors linked to both increasing and decreasing the likelihood of giving birth and repeat births among foster youth transitioning to adulthood. Risk factors include disconnection from school and employment, placement instability and not remaining in extended foster care. Meanwhile, data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Opportunity Passport®’s biennual survey of youth in foster care indicates that education and training assets represents close to 20% of all assets purchased in the Opportunity Passport program. What’s more, an analysis by Child Trends indicates that a young person (whether parenting or not) who has made an asset purchase since their last survey has 2.7 times higher odds of reporting being in school than those who have not made a purchase related to education.
Early Parenting Common Among Youth in Foster Care
The article’s authors analyzed a national sample of females, ages 19 through 21 who had aged out of foster care, and found that 30% had given birth. About one-third of this group of young women had already given birth earlier in life, generally between ages 17 through 19.
“Our study shows that early births are very common in this population, and some young women parent multiple children by age 21,” says Shpiegel, who was the project’s lead researcher. “Keeping youth connected to educational settings and providing adequate supports to help them graduate may help prevent early births, as well as provide better opportunities to young women who are already parenting.”
The research highlights important opportunities for system leaders on which to take action, including:
- leveraging recent federal stimulus funds to expand the use of the Chafee education and training voucher program;
- prioritizing pregnancy prevention efforts for foster youth, such as providing comprehensive, trauma-informed, sexual and reproductive health programming;
- keeping youth in care connected to educational settings and providing adequate support to help them graduate; and
- encouraging young people to remain in foster care for the maximum time permitted by state legislation, as this has been shown to reduce early birth and improve their outcomes into young adulthood.