Foster Teen Research Series – Part 1

Foster Teen Research Series – Part 1


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Foster Teen Research Blog Series

Why Are 18-Year-Olds in Foster Care 20 Times More Likely to Have a Child?

Research by HCMS and the Wyoming Department of Family Services shows sharply higher teen pregnancy rates among foster children than previously estimated.

In the year they turn 18, girls in foster care are 20 times more likely to have a child than teens living with their families.

Recently published, peer-reviewed research by HCMS Group and the Wyoming Department of Family Services explores the dimensions of the problem and identifies a surprising new correlation that may help explain it. The study will appear soon in Child Welfare, the research journal of the Child Welfare League of America.

HCMS first looked into this issue three years ago and found that teen pregnancy rates were significantly higher for girls in foster care than previous research suggested. Our initial analysis didn’t identify causes, though other experts have cited unstable living situations, adolescence, and exposure to sexual abuse.

Working with the state DFS, our data analysts Justin Schaneman and Pamela Pendleton subsequently designed a more rigorous study following 5,326 Wyoming girls from the time they were 15 until they turned 19. The analysis, covering more than 11 years, compared foster teens with two groups of girls living at home. One group’s healthcare was covered by Medicaid – as was that of the foster-care group – and a second group had private health insurance.

Here’s what the data showed year by year:

Why were the differences so stark, especially between the foster teens and girls with private health insurance? Based on published research, we suspected a correlation between the pregnancy rates and substantially higher prescribing rates of narcotic, psychotropic, and other drugs for foster children.

We’ll have more on what we discovered in our next post. But here’s a hint: Our research showed that foster teens were four to six times as likely to have a mental health diagnosis as girls living at home and covered by private medical insurance.


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