California’s Extension of Foster Care through Age 21: An Opportunity for Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting Support

More than 35 percent of adolescent girls in California’s child-welfare system will have given birth before the age of 21, according to a new report from Emily Putnam-Hornstein and researchers from the Children’s Data Network at the University of Southern California.

About two thirds of these teen births occurred after the age of 18, creating implications for the way policymakers design programs for older  foster youth as part of extended foster care in California and a growing number of states across the country.

In 2012, California passed the Fostering Connections to Success Act (also known as Assembly Bill 12) that extended eligibility for foster care and related benefits to age 21 for foster youth who otherwise would have aged out of the system at 18.

By providing better data on pregnant and parenting teens in California’s foster-care system for the first time, Putnam-Hornstein and her team hope that this information can be used to better guide the delivery of pregnancy prevention and parenting support services under extended foster care.

“This policy may serve as a vehicle for health care systems and community programs to reach a highly vulnerable youth population during the years in which many individuals will become first-time parents,” according to the California’s Extension of Foster Care through Age 21: An Opportunity for Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting Support report.

With a significant population of adolescents in the foster-care system who have given birth before age 21, the team of researchers suggests that extended foster-care resources tied to housing, transitional supports and child care should be restructured to meet the needs of this group.

In looking at patterns of births to adolescents in the state child-welfare system, the Children’s Data Network researchers analyzed California state administrative data from 2003 to 2007. During that time period, researchers identified 20,222 females who were in foster care at age 17. By linking data from child protective services records to birth records from 2001 to 2011, they were able to identify whether a first birth had occurred before the age of 21 for this adolescent population.

In addition to an analysis of state data, the researchers also examined data at a county level, and by race and ethnicity. Across the state, Hispanic youth had the highest cumulative birth rates by age 21 with 43.1 percent. Black youth had a cumulative birth rate of 33 percent, while the similar rate for white youth was 29.4 percent.

Funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and First 5 LA, the new report hopes to build on previous Children’s Data Network research that has shown the elevated prevalence of child maltreatment in the state and the increased risk of abuse and neglect for children born to adolescents who were involved with California’s child-welfare system.

To read the whole report, click here.

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Jeremy Loudenback
About Jeremy Loudenback 319 Articles
Jeremy is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.