Pregnancy and Parenting Among DCFS Wards & Emancipated Youth

April 20th, 2010

Christina Bruhn, Ph.D.
Houses Calls Counseling Therapist

While most people have a sense that DCFS wards might be at increased risk for pregnancy and parenting as compared to youth in general, very little publicized information helps us decide whether that is actually true or not. This article reviews research about pregnancy and parenting among DCFS wards.

The conclusions that can be drawn from this review are that youth in foster care are at greater risk of becoming parents than youth who are not in foster care, and the risk of teen pregnancy and parenting rises sharply with age. Talking about sex and pregnancy with teens is important, but this is particularly true for teens in foster care, who may engage in sexual activity and become pregnant as early as age 12. The consequences on the physical health as well as mental/ emotional health of both the child and the baby can be very severe. Talking about sex and pregnancy with teens does not increase their likelihood of engaging in sexual activity. If you want more information about how to talk to your teen about sex and how to help them prevent teen pregnancy, talk to your House Calls therapist!

Available reports indicate that the likelihood of a youth engaging in sexual activity rises sharply with the age of the youth. In Illinois, among youth 12 to 15 years old, 37% of females and 39% of males report having had sexual intercourse. Among youth 16 and 17 years old, 71% of females and 89% of males report having had sexual intercourse. Nationally, by age 19, 90% of young women in foster care report having had sexual intercourse. This compares to 78% of young women in the general population.

The likelihood that a young woman in foster care will become pregnant prior to the age of 18, based on Illinois data, is about 19%. However, the data also indicate that 55% of youth who are 18 or older and are still in care are pregnant or parenting. Findings nationally state that, by age 19, nearly half of young women in foster care have been pregnant. The rate of pregnancy nationally for young women of this age who are not in foster care is about 20%. This means that young women in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant than young women not in foster care.

About 14% of 16 and 17 year-old males interviewed in Illinois reported having gotten someone pregnant. Among all males in care in Illinois, 19% report having gotten someone pregnant, and nationally, about 15% of males in foster care report being parents.