Half of children born to mothers in foster care will also enter into the child welfare system by their second birthday, according to a study published in this month’s issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The intergenerational cycle of foster care is a well-known phenomenon to advocates and child welfare workers, but new data illustrates the significance of this pipeline into foster care.
“These young women have often experienced abuse or neglect, do not have a positive attachment to their primary caregiver, and have lived with many different caregivers, which can make the transition to motherhood more challenging,” said the report, which examined the outcomes for more than 5,000 teen mothers in Canada.
Young women in foster care are more than twice as likely to become pregnant as a teen than their non-system involved peers, research shows.
The study followed 576 foster youth who gave birth while in care and 5,366 non-systems involved teen moms. Of those mothers in foster care, 25 percent had their child removed within the first week of life. For another 17 percent, the removal occurred after that first week, but before the child’s first birthday. An additional 7 percent had a child taken into care between their first and second birthdays.
The study also compared the outcome of mothers who gave birth to their first child while in foster care to the experience of teen moms not in care. Of that larger group of 5,366, 10 percent of those mothers had their child removed into protective care by their second birthday.
Accounting for variable factors like maternal mental health or substance abuse, the researchers found that young mothers who give birth while in foster care are 7.53 times more likely to have their child taken into foster care. Looking only at the first week after birth, moms in foster care are over 11 times more likely to see their child removed during that time frame.
The researchers indicate that young women in care may not have access to the familial support that other pregnant teens rely on. Moreover, the study indicates that receiving expectant parent services from child protective services may actually increase scrutiny on the mother-to-be.
“From many caseworkers’ perspectives, the cycle starts with adolescent motherhood (which is deemed as bad), and the only way to ‘break’ the cycle is to take that child into care,” the report says. “This is different from the view of adolescent mothers who often see the removal of their child as a continuation of the cycle of trauma in their lives.”
In the United States, President Trump recently signed a major overhaul of child welfare financing that will make more federal funds available to keep foster youth together with their babies. Under the Family First Prevention Services Act, which became federal law in February 2018, young women who become pregnant while in care will be eligible for up to 12 months of preventative services intended to keep mother and child together.