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Teen pregnancy risk high for Texas girls in foster care system

Texas teens who have gone through the foster care system are almost five times more likely to become pregnant compared to other Texas teens, according to a new report by Texans Care for Children.
This newly released report comes as state officials and residents are working to improve Texas’ foster care system. The report is titled “Fostering Healthy Lives” and is the most comprehensive policy report to date on the issue of pregnant and parenting youth in Texas foster care.

Texans Care for Children collected and analyzed state and national data, reviewed programs and policies in Texas, and conducted surveys, focus groups, and interviews with youth and adults who have been through Texas foster care.
According to the report, in a given year, one out of every 20 girls ages 13 to 17 in Texas foster care becomes pregnant. The one-year pregnancy rate for girls in that age bracket is 5.7 percent, compared to 1.2 percent among all Texas girls in that age range. Older teens in foster care face an even higher risk, and girls who remain in foster care for several years in their teens face a particularly high risk at some point during their time in care.

“The state of Texas took responsibility for serving as the temporary parent of these kids when it removed them from their families, and that responsibility includes helping them stay healthy and be effective parents if they have a baby during their teen years,” Kate Murphy, Senior Child Welfare Policy Associate at Texans Care for Children, said. “Many Texas leaders recognize that this is an important issue, but our research shows that it needs to be a higher priority.”
Among other issues, the report sheds light on teen pregnancy in foster care leading to a cycle of child welfare involvement. One 2012 study of youth who exited the Texas foster care system found that children born to teens in foster care were more than twice as likely to spend some time in foster care themselves.
“A teen parent in foster care has already been through so much in her short life,” Murphy said. “We owe it to her and her child to do everything we can to help her raise her baby safely and successfully so CPS doesn’t have to take away her baby.”

There are many missed opportunities to reduce the high risk of teen pregnancies in foster care. These teens are often in regular contact with adults – including foster parents, medical professionals, and CPS caseworkers.

But the majority of foster care youth and adults said these adults need better training on how to talk about healthy relationships and sexual prevention, the report said.

Only 41 percent of surveyed Texas providers believe they have sufficient training on the subject. Additionally, the state requires foster and adoption agencies to have a plan to assist teens in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, but only 38 percent of the child welfare providers surveyed agreed their agency had a specific plan, protocol, or program.
“Some girls get sexually active (because they) are looking for something, especially in the foster care system,” Destiny, a 21-year-old former foster care youth, said. “Their parents are gone; they were split up from their siblings. They want to feel loved and they gravitate toward the first person who shows that to them.”

As for state intervention, the number of teen parents in foster care is low enough for Texas to provide each one of them ample support to be healthy and try to safely stay together if state leaders make it a priority.

In 2017 the Texas foster care system included 332 pregnant youth and 218 parenting youth, according to data cited in the report. Forty-eight infants born in 2017 were subsequently placed in foster care in the same year.

The report said the first step to improving support to teen parents in foster care and their babies is to determine the shortage of foster homes that are equipped to support teen parents.

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