California Bill Says Children of Teens in Foster Care Not Presumed At-Risk of Abuse

By Xueting Guo

While there is clear evidence that children born to mothers with experience in the foster care system are at heightened risk to enter the system themselves, a new bill in California would preclude social workers from using a pregnant or parenting foster youth’s foster care records when determining whether or not to remove his or her child.

Introduced by California Assembly member Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando) in February, Assembly Bill 260 would direct child welfare administrations that a child whose parent has been deemed a dependent child of the court shall not be considered at risk of abuse or neglect solely on the basis of information concerning the parent’s placement history, behaviors, health or mental health diagnoses, or any other circumstances, occurring prior to the birth of the child.

The bill’s intent is to support family maintenance and avoid disrupting the family unnecessarily.

If approved, the bill would have an impact on parenting youth and their families.According to a study led by Professor Emily Putnam-Hornstein of the University of Southern California in 2013, in California, more than 1 in 4 girls who were in foster care at age 17 had given birth at least once before age 20. According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the birth rate of all adolescent females aged 15 to 19 in the United States was 26.5 per 1,000, down from a high of 61.8 per 1,000 in 1991.

“Teen pregnancy is all too common among foster youth”, said Gloria Llamas, a former senior case manager at Living Advantage, a local non-profit organization serving foster youth. Llamas was also a foster youth and teen mother herself.

According to researcher Heather D. Boonstra, young women in foster care are more than twice as likely as their peers not in foster care to become pregnant by age 19. Even more troubling: many of those who become pregnant experience repeat pregnancy before age 19.

Llamas said she understands the motivation behind the bill, but has reservations.

“When considering parenting rights, decisions and judgements should be made on concrete evidence instead of people’s backgrounds,” Llamas said.

The potential risk of AB 260, she said, is that if supportive services for parenting youth are not expanded, children of parenting foster youth will remain at an elevated risk of abuse or neglect.

“First, there are few resources supporting young parents in raising their children,” Llamas said. “Neglect or abuse may happen as a result of not having parenting skills. Because young people are not mature enough, sometimes their children can become a target to relieve their negative emotions.”

According to the bill, savings obtained as a result of the law would be used to promote services that would support family maintenance and family reunification plans. This includes client transportation, out-of-home respite care, parenting training, and the provision of temporary or emergency in-home caretakers, and teaching homemaking skills.

Xueting Guo is a graduate student at USC’s Price School of Public Policy. She wrote this article for the Media for Policy Change course. 

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