Special populations of expectant and parenting young families have unique needs that can affect how they should receive services. The following special populations are more likely to be underserved and vulnerable to negative health and well-being outcomes for themselves and their child. The services provided to these expectant and parenting young families should be culturally competent and sensitive to their past experiences.
Foster Youth/Transitioning Youth
Foster youth, or transitioning youth, are at a greater risk for experiencing negative health, education, and well-being outcomes in comparison to non-foster youth.1 This disparity is exacerbated when foster youth become parents at a young age, most especially when they are about to transition or they are transitioning out of foster care.2 Foster youth are more likely to become an expectant/parenting young person than non-foster youth, and would benefit from programming designed to address their special needs.3 In particular, foster youth aging out of the system who are also a parent have been found to have higher rates of abusive and neglectful parenting behaviors.4
Youth with disabilities are at an elevated risk for early pregnancy and need specific supports and information needs.5 Youth with disabilities who are expectant and/or parenting will need more direct and supportive approaches to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and to learn parenting skills. In particular, they will benefit from targeted educational support, such as tutoring, to help them graduate high school and pursue secondary education or skills training. Additional recommended services include counseling, health services, daycare mentor support, and work/life skills classes that focus on parenting skills, nutrition, and healthy relationship skills.6
Homeless expectant and parenting young families face a multitude of challenges and often have little to no support to ensure their health and safety. One of the main reasons youth become homeless is because they are running away from an abusive or traumatic home life.7 Another is that young women who become pregnant may leave or be kicked out of their home.8 Homeless youth who are expecting or who are already parenting will likely need support in finding safe and reliable housing, permanent employment, and health care. They will also likely benefit from programming that teaches knowledge and skills in parenting, nutrition, and healthy relationships.
Expectant and parenting young women in juvenile correction facilities are at an increased risk for experiencing unplanned and high-risk pregnancies. They also often do not receive adequate prenatal care and nutrition, while being more likely to have experienced domestic violence, mental health issues, and substance abuse.9
In addition to the welfare of the expectant and parenting young families, there is also the concern for the well-being of their children. The most recent reports show that 1 in 28 children in the U.S. have at least one parent that is incarcerated10 and it is estimated that about 30 percent of incarcerated teen males have at least one child.11Young people with incarcerated parents are at greater risk of experiencing poorer mental health, behavioral, and educational outcomes. They are more likely to experience impaired relationships with their incarcerated parent, teen pregnancy, drop out of high school, and use drugs.12 It is crucial to develop and implement programs that support these family relationships while a parent is incarcerated and during their transition to civilian/family life in order to increase the chances of success for these families.13
Although parental visitation and parenting education programs are rare within juvenile correction facilities, there have been some advancements within recent years. For example, one program features low-cost, sustainable parenting and structured visitation for non-custodial incarcerated teen parents.14 The main purpose is to help build a quality relationship between the teen father and his child, rather than just providing information on parenting skills. The emphasis on building the parent-child relationship provides time for physical contact and opportunities for emotional bonds to form and strengthen. So far there have been significant results in the program, showing improvements in “positive high quality interactions” and communication during the parent-child sessions.15
Expectant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care (PDF, 95 pages)
This resource guide provides information on programming for expectant and parenting youth who are in foster care, in the areas of: parenting supports, developmental supports for children and parents, preparation for adulthood, and other related resources.
Helping Pregnant and Parenting Teens Find Housing
This webpage from the Healthy Teen Network provides information and resources on how to find housing for pregnant and parenting teens.
Maternity Group Homes Fact Sheet
This fact sheet from the Family & Youth Services Bureau provides information on maternity group homes and how they can help support homeless pregnant and/or parenting young people between the ages of 16 and 22.
Parents Aging Out of the Child Welfare System (PDF, 15 pages)
This report provides an overview of youth in the child welfare system who are at risk for becoming parents, including youth aging out of care. Topics covered include recent research, important issues in this group, and recommendations for policy and practice.
Right from the Start: Empowering Young Parents for Success
This video describes a Missouri program that helps parents, including hard-to-reach young people like youth who are homeless, gain the skills they need to support their children.
Supporting Teen Mothers in Foster Care
This overview from SAMHSA provides information on the best approaches to using congregate care for expectant and parenting young families.
1 Courtney, Dworsky, Brown, Cary, Love, Vorhies, et al., 2011; Pecora, Williams, Kessler, Downs, O’Brien, Hiripi, et al., 2003; Reilly, 2003
2 Schelbe, McWey, Radey, Canto, & Holtrop, 2015
3 Svoboda, Shaw, Barth, & Bright, 2012; Stevens-Simon, Nelligan, & Kelly, 2001; Whitson, Martinez, Ayala, & Kaufman, 2011
4 Geiger & Schelbe, 2014
5 Jones, Woolcock-Henry, & Domenico, 2005
6 Jones, Woolcock-Henry, & Domenico, 2005; Indiana Secondary Transition Resource Center, n.d.
7 Smid, Bourgois, & Auerswald, 2010
8 Meadows-Oliver, 2006
9 Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women, 2011
10 Pew Charitable Trusts: Pew Center on the States, 2010
11 Nurse, 2002
12 Murray, 2005; Murray & Farrington, 2005; Myers, Smarsh, Amlund-Hagen, & Kennon, 1999; Trice & Brewster, 2004
13 Barr, Brito, Zocca, Rodriguez, & Shauffer, 2011
14 Barr et al., 2011, p.1555
15 Barr et al., 2011