2013-11-21 / Family

Hilton Foundation study reveals foster care shortcomings

Many girls in foster care turn into teen moms, study shows
By Stephanie Bertholdo

Although teen pregnancies have reached historic lows nationwide, a new study sponsored by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in Agoura Hills shows that birth rates among teens in foster care through California’s Child Protective Services are significantly higher.

According to the study “California’s Most Vulnerable Parents,” which examines youths involved in protective services, teenage girls in Los Angeles County who have been involved with Child Protective Services havea1in4chanceofgiving birth to a child before the age of 20.

As many as 40 percent of this group of young mothers have a second child as a teenager.

The study was authored by USC professors Emily Putnam- Hornstein, Julie A. Cederbaum and Barbara Needell, and Bryn King of UC Berkeley.

In 2012, California became one of the first states in the nation to extend foster youth status to age 21.

According to kidsdata.org, as of July 1, 2012, Los Angeles County has the highest number of children under age 21 in foster care in California. The report also found that teen moms who were abused as children are more likely to become abusers than those who weren’t.

The researchers came to the conclusions that links higher teen birth rates to CPS after analyzing about 1.5 million California birth records and 1 million CPS records.

The second phase of research focused on the risk of children born to adolescent mothers being abused.

“This analysis provides a new, population-level understanding of child-welfare involvement among teen mothers and their children,” said Putnam-Hornstein. “These data underscore opportunities for targeted prevention as well as the importance of policies that support and enhance the parenting capacity of young mothers.”

“This pioneering study provides an in-depth look at some of the most vulnerable youth in our society,” said Steven M. Hilton, chair, president and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. “It’s critical that we provide opportunities for these young parents to strengthen their parenting skills and make choices that can have positive effects on their lives and those of their children. With early intervention we can break the cycle of abuse that impacts maltreated children generation after generation.”

Babies as ‘salvation’

Jessica Chandler, a student at Cal State Northridge, will graduate with a master’s of social work degree in May. Chandler is a product of the Child Protective Services system and knows all too well the benefits and pitfalls of foster care and the challenges of being a young mother.

Chandler was placed into juvenile hall for petty crimes at the age of 12. Her parents failed to “retrieve” her when she was eligible for release, the now 25-year-old mother of two said in an interview with the Acorn.

From the age of 12 until she was 18, Chandler was in and out of juvenile hall and lived in three group homes.

Chandler’s personal story reveals what the study confirmed. Children placed in foster care lack education and the kind of parenting model that children in functional homes emulate.

Chandler’s experience has given her a personal understanding of why young girls in foster care are more likely to get pregnant than the general population of troubled teens.

“I was kind of being shuffled through the process and (never) understood why things were happening to me,” she said.

“You start to think ‘I’m unforgiveable’ or ‘unlovable,’ and it makes you more vulnerable to people who want to give love. Young girls want babies as salvation. They want to be normal.”

Chandler had her first child at the age of 18, and her second son at the age of 20.

Alternatives to foster care?

Now a social worker, Chandler works with vulnerable teens at the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services facility in Chatsworth.

Her job is to help pregnant teens stay on track. She creates step-by-step plans during pregnancy and after delivery. She helps teens stay in school, keep a job, obtain services, find housing or battle drug problems.

Chandler believes the foster care system is broken. In her view the majority of children pulled out of their homes and placed in foster care should remain with their families. She estimates that about 70 percent of all children in CPS have been neglected simply because of poverty and lack of education.

CPS can remove children from a home if a parent leaves them unsupervised while working or if the home environment is “too dirty.”

Chandler asserts that the money paid for foster care would be better spent on services to lift up an entire family, helping them become more responsible and employable.

Chandler thinks that about 2 percent of children taken from their families should never go home, such as those sexually or physically abused or severely neglected by their parents.

The current system allows parents who have physically or sexually abused a child the same reunification services as poor families who lost their child because of neglect, she said.

Chandler has been lucky, but she’s also been industrious. She is a single mom of two sons, ages 6 and 4. They live in campus housing at CSUN while she is finishing her degree.

“Once you train me to be a good mom, then guess what, my kids are going to learn from me,” she said. The cycle of poverty and abuse can be broken and a new legacy started, she said.

To read the full study, visit www.hiltonfoundation.org/ teenparentsreport.

Return to top