Entering and navigating the child welfare system can be stressful and confusing for young people separated from their families. It can be even more challenging for young people who are parents, are pregnant, or are expecting. Expectant and parenting youth have unique needs related to their physical, emotional, social, and financial health that require specialized support. Child welfare professionals must be well equipped to help expectant and parenting youth in care meet those needs and support them as they transition to adulthood and/or parenthood. Lived experience leaders from FosterClub who have expertise as expecting or parenting youth in care worked in close partnership with Child Welfare Information Gateway to develop this bulletin. The experiences, insights, and advice of these young people shaped the content of this publication. When quoted, they are identified according to their preference by name, State, or anonymous.
This bulletin provides strategies for caseworkers, agencies, and other youth-serving professionals to better support expectant and parenting youth and their families. It includes general information about working with these young people and case-level and systemwide strategies that may contribute to overall improved outcomes. This product focuses on all youth—including those who are pregnant, their partners, mothers, fathers, nonbinary parents, and other members of the LGBTQIA2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual, Two-Spirit, or other gender or sexual identity) community.
All teenage and young adult parents need support, regardless of their involvement with the child welfare system. The human brain continues to develop through one’s mid-20s, and adolescent and young adult brains have yet to fully develop in the areas related to reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving. Young people expecting or parenting during this part of their lives need strong support networks and resources to become successful adults and—if they choose—parents.
Youth in foster care experience higher rates of pregnancy and parenthood compared to their peers who are not in foster care (Eastman et al., 2019). This includes both young people who become pregnant and their partners. Expectant and parenting youth in care also face unique challenges related to housing and foster care placements, completing their education, obtaining employment, understanding their parental rights, accessing health-care and mental health services, accessing child care, and more. Navigating these challenges requires specialized support from caseworkers and other professionals. However, expectant and parenting youth in care often lack the financial, emotional, social, and parenting support they need, which can lead to lower educational attainment, unemployment, homelessness, or their own children entering the child welfare system (Combs et al., 2018).
Despite the challenges and responsibilities that expectant and pregnant youth in care shoulder, they are also resilient. Being involved with the child welfare system, many of these young people are eager to give their children a childhood different from their own. Some may even benefit from the transition to parenthood as they commit to being good parents (Eastman et al., 2019). Many young parents have the resiliency and desire to succeed—they just need the help, guidance, and opportunities that every young person deserves.