- March 2012
- Vol. 13, No. 2
Pregnancy Among Youth in Foster Care
Teen pregnancy and parenting are pressing issues within the general youth population but especially among youth in the foster care system. Nearly half of the girls in foster care have been pregnant by age 19, which is more than two-and-a-half times higher than the rate of nonfoster youth.1 By age 21, nearly half of all male foster youth reported having impregnated their female partner, as opposed to 19 percent of nonfoster youth.2
Through a 2011 Children's Bureau grant, the Clark County (NV) Department of Family Services (DFS) DREAMR (Determined, Responsible, Empowered Adolescents Mentoring Relationships) project is seeking to reduce pregnancy among youth in foster care and improve relationship and parenting skills for those youth already pregnant or parenting. Judy Tudor, Child Welfare Manager at Clark County DFS, noted that there is a lack of models and services for pregnant and parenting youth in foster care and that serving the population requires a different approach than the general youth population. "When we see teen pregnancy occurring in foster youth, it is often an intentional pregnancy to replace the family they have lost through being in foster care, as opposed to the general population where teen pregnancy is often unplanned."
The project, which is currently in a planning phase, will use a randomized control group experimental design, with the treatment and control groups each including approximately 150 youth aged 12 to 14 and 50 youth aged 15 to 21. Youth in the treatment group will participate in the following three project components:
- Training and education. All youth in the treatment group will receive training and education about pregnancy prevention, and youth who are already pregnant or parenting will receive education and training about parenting issues.
- 3-5-7 Model. The DREAMR project is utilizing this model to help children explore grief and loss issues related to being in foster care. A youth specialist will work one on one with foster youth to discuss issues such as why they came into care, permanency, and how to integrate significant relationships into their life plans.
- Mentoring. The project will pair current foster youth with mentors who are former foster youth. The mentors will attend the training and education sessions with the youth and maintain an ongoing dialogue with them about the foster care experience, pregnancy prevention, and relationship skills.
Each of the two age groups will participate in the same set of services, but the content will be tailored toward the level and needs of each group. Additionally, the project will provide education and training to caregivers and case managers about how to discuss pregnancy prevention and other related issues with foster youth.
Youth input has been critical to the project. During the planning and grant-writing phases, DFS obtained youth feedback on service approaches and models, and they established a youth advisory committee to help develop a presentation to recruit youth as participants and mentors. Additionally, former foster youth will serve as facilitators for the various education and training sessions.
To help recruit for and maintain participation in the initiative, the DREAMR project will present foster youth in the treatment group with a unique incentive: smartphones. These phones will be loaded with software specially designed for the project. The purpose of the software is twofold: (1) to help youth track and receive the necessary services (e.g., sending reminders about their appointments, allowing them to easily keep in touch with service providers) and (2) to assist with data collection for the evaluation (e.g., sending texts to youth asking if they have met with their mentor that week). With the increasing importance of technology to young people, this approach is youth friendly, and it can help move youth more efficiently through the project and evaluation. Control group participants will receive another incentive.
Several organizations are collaborating with DFS on this project:
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada is helping implement the mentoring component.
- The Turning Point Experience is developing the smartphone software.
- Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY) is assisting with the implementation of the 3-5-7 Model.
- Olive Crest is assisting with the parenting education and training component.
- The University of Nevada, Las Vegas will evaluate the project.
- Darla Henry served as a consultant on the project.
Many thanks to Judy Tudor of the Clark County Department of Family Services for providing information for this article.
1 Bilaver, L. A., & Courtney, M. E. (2006). Foster care youth. Retrieved from
2 Courtney, M., Dworsky, A., Cusick, G. R., Havlicek, J., Perez, A., & Keller, T. (2007). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former
foster youth: Outcomes at age 21. Retrieved from