Most Illinois Children in Foster Care Were Born to Former Teen Mothers
Children of mothers who first give birth as teenagers make up more than 60 percent of children entering foster care in Illinois, that is, children who become wards of the state because they were maltreated. More than three-quarters of Illinois children entering foster care are born to mothers who had their first child before they were 22 years old.
This research strongly suggests that a mother’s age when she begins childbearing has a significant impact on the likelihood that her children will be reported for abuse or neglect. Yet despite policymakers’ need to understand factors that put children at risk for maltreatment, little information is available about the role teen childbearing has in cases of abuse and neglect. No national datasets that contain information about child maltreatment and foster care include the mother’s age when she first gives birth. Child welfare data collected in Illinois are one of the few sources for such information. Because the overall Illinois child population resembles the child population in the rest of the U.S. in terms of income and race/ethnicity, it is particularly useful to learn how the children of teen mothers are faring in Illinois.
Researchers at Chapin Hall tabulated all births to women between 1982 and 1998. They examined the effect of a mother’s age when she first gives birth on the likelihood that any of her children, including those born when she is older, will experience maltreatment or be placed in foster care before they turn 5 years old. Among the Chapin Hall findings are:
Mothers under age 18 maltreated their children at three times the rate of older mothers.
Children born to mothers who begin childbearing at 17 or younger are twice as likely as the children of older mothers to be placed in foster care.
Once children of teen mothers are placed in foster care, they stay longer. (During the period of this study, the median number of days in foster care for children whose mothers gave birth at age 15 or younger was 1,086 days, compared with 668 days for children whose mothers first gave birth at age 20 or older.)
These findings highlight the need to learn more about the risks to children of teen parents and factors that may mitigate those risks. The findings also underscore the need for policymakers to focus on these families. Read the study by Robert Goerge, Allen Harden, and Bong Joo Lee in Kids Having Kids: Economic Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy, second edition, edited by Saul D. Hoffman and Rebecca A. Maynard.