Research has documented elevated rates of early childbirth among adolescents who have spent time in foster care, and a better understanding is needed of the characteristics of vulnerable individuals and the circumstances of their time in care.
California birth records for 1999–2010 were probabilistically linked to state child welfare service records spanning the same date range to identify females aged 12–19 who had spent time in foster care and had had a first birth before age 20. Latent class analysis was used to identify subgroups based on age at most recent entry into care, length of this stay and three indicators of placement instability. The probability of a first birth being related to class membership was assessed as a distal outcome, and differences across classes were assessed using chi‐square tests.
Four distinct classes of foster youth were identified: Later Entry/High Instability (20% of individuals), Later Entry/Low Instability (43%), Earlier Entry/High Instability (12%) and Earlier Entry/Low Instability (25%). The probability of a first childbirth ranged from 31% (class 1) to 15% (class 4); classes 2 and 3 experienced moderate risk (23% and 24%, respectively). Two groups were further characterized by high rates of reentry into care, with 56% of class 1 and 41% of class 3 individuals experiencing more than one episode in care.
Identifiable subgroups of female foster youth are at heightened risk of early childbirth and may benefit from early intervention, enhanced support and access to reliable, ongoing sexual and reproductive health care.
Bryn King is assistant professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, Toronto, and affiliated researcher, the Children’s Data Network, at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Andrea Lane Eastman is research assistant professor, also at the Children’s Data Network. Claudette Grinnell-Davis is assistant professor, Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work, University of Oklahoma, Tulsa. Elizabeth Aparicio is assistant professor, Department of Behavioral and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park.