Teen pregnancy rates among foster children may be higher than previously thought.
More than one in five teenage girls in foster care had a pregnancy in a study of Wyoming children ages 14-18, according to HCMS Group. The girls’ pregnancy rate was almost five times the rate for teenagers covered by the Wyoming health plan for state employees, and 11 times the rate for girls covered by private medical insurance in the state.
National data on pregnancies don’t break out foster teens. One often-cited study found that girls in foster care in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin were 2.5 times as likely to become pregnant as those not in foster care. Among all girls ages 15-19, the pregnancy rate in 2010 was 5.7%, the authoritative Guttmacher Institute in New York reported this year. In Wyoming, the rate was 5% among girls covered by the state health plan, 2% for those under private insurance and 22% for foster teens.
The analysis of teen pregnancy rates in Wyoming may be the first based on statewide data. The study covered more than 7,500 girls between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2013. HCMS Group maintains a research reference database that includes Wyoming records from private medical plans, the state-employee program and Medicaid, which covers children in foster care. Wyoming is the least populous state with 583,000 people.
Among child welfare professionals, there’s little mystery to why pregnancy rates are much higher for foster children. Those who have studied the matter cite the combination of unstable living situations, adolescence, and exposure to sexual abuse. There is also a lack of training for foster parents in teaching girls about self-protection and self-esteem. Some of the pregnancies are accidental, and in other cases girls set out to fill a void in their lives by creating a family of their own, studies have shown.
As the Wyoming girls reached the ages of 16-18, the rates jumped to between 25% and 29%, according to HCMS. For girls 16-18 who were covered by the state health plan, the rates were 6% to 7%, while those with private benefit programs had rates of 3% to 4%.
“Many people forget this is not the immaculate conception,” said Eileen Mayers Pasztor, professor, School of Social Work, California State University, Long Beach, who has long studied and worked in the child welfare field. “There always is a father, and where is the training for young men regarding self-esteem and responsibility and fatherhood? There also is the issue of social justice when teenage girls become pregnant and their babies’ fathers are over 18 years of age; isn’t sex with a minor rape?”
— Robert L. Simison, HCMS Communications
On behalf of HCMS Data Analytics