Providing Extra Services to Pregnant Teens in Foster Care Improves Outcomes for Young Families

A smiling young pregnant woman.

Family Preservation and Healthy Outcomes for Pregnant and Parenting Teens in Foster Care: The Inwood House Theory of Change” (abstract). Lisa D. Lieberman, Linda Lausell Bryant, and Keneca Boyce. Journal of Family Social Work, Vol. 18, No. 4 (2015).

What it’s about: Youth in foster care are twice as likely to become teen parents as their peers. Once they have children, they face a higher risk of future pregnancies, living in poverty, or having their children be involved in foster care, Lieberman and her colleagues write.

The researchers wanted to see if a residential program targeting the complex developmental, educational, and mental health needs of pregnant and parenting foster youth led to different outcomes than more traditional programs. They evaluated 130 young women participating in a demonstration project at Inwood House, a residential program for pregnant and parenting females ages 13 to 21 in New York City.

Lieberman et al. looked for factors that might signal healthier and more stable futures for participants, such as whether they had a relationship with a supportive adult or intended to use birth control. Those outcomes were then compared to those of 103 girls enrolled in a different residential program offering more standard services. Both groups of youth participated in interviews while they were pregnant before and after their programs, and Inwood House clients were interviewed six months and one year after their child’s birth.

Why read it: Pregnant and parenting youth face a wide range of challenges, which are compounded if young moms and dads are also in foster care. Most child welfare systems focus primarily on protecting youth in their care from maltreatment, the authors write, rather than addressing developmental needs like developing peer relationships or exploring their personal identities. This study offers a glimpse into what pregnant teens in foster care might achieve with the help of enhanced services like peer mentoring or intensive mental health care management.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Lieberman et al. found that pregnant and parenting girls at Inwood House were more likely to engage in career development activities such as completing an internship, having a relationship with at least one supportive adult, and intending to use birth control than the other participants in the study.

Their analysis identified Inwood House’s multi-faceted services as the driver behind these improvements, especially in the realms of job skills, parenting empathy, birth control, and relationships with supportive adults, peers, and family members. Those enhanced services include:

  • Expressive therapy programs in music, dance, creative writing, and drama
  • Comprehensive sex education
  • Career development opportunities, including resume writing and internships
  • Maternal and child health services such as workshops on infants’ psychological and physical needs
  • Comprehensive support from a doula before, during, and after birth
  • Peer mentoring from young adults who were also teen parents
  • Video recordings of positive interactions between participants and their babies
  • Intensive mental health services, including assessments and psychotherapy

Lieberman et al. recommend that child welfare systems incorporate a similar array of services in order to support young parents in their personal growth and in parenting their children. Such support has the potential to end the intergenerational cycle of foster care involvement so common for young families, the authors say.

Additional references: Learn more about pregnant and parenting youth and youth with foster care experience in our digital library.

Learn more about supporting teen parents in this slideshow.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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