King, B., Eastman, A. L., GrinnellDavis, C., & Aparicio, E. (2019). Early childbirth among foster youth: A latent class analysis to determine subgroups at increased risk. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health51(4).  


Though the overall adolescent birth rate has declined in the United States, maltreated youth involved with the child welfare system, whether from home or in foster care during their mid-to-late adolescence, continue to be at a higher risk for early childbirth. For youth in care, studies have shown that the increased risk could be due to shorter placements, placement instability, type of placement (e.g. group homes, shelters), and multiple re-entries into care. However, most research has been conducted through a variable centred analysis, only looking at the relationship between variables, and failed to capture the interactions and influences of foster care experience on early childbirth. Thus, the purpose of this study is to utilize a person-centred analysis that clusters youth based on similar characteristics, such as the age of recent entry, length of stay and placement stability. 


  • Child welfare records and birth records were linked using Link Plus 2.0; total of 18, 090 links that were analyzed 
  • Child protective service records between 1989 and 1991 were extracted from the Child Welfare Services Case Management System in California.  
  • Only youth who spent time in care after their 10th birthday was included 
  • Birth records between 1999 and 2010 were obtained from the California Department of Public Health. Youth records which indicate giving birth between the ages of 12-19 and whose information can be identifiable were extracted. 


Discussion and Findings 

  •  adolescents who had a later entry but high instability during their brief time in foster care were most likely to give birth before 20. Disruptive behaviours presented (e.g. running away) at a placement may have influenced the frequent placemnnt changes experienced by all the participants.  
  • High placement instability has been shown to cause problems later in life, including delinquency, risky sexual behaviour, and mental and behavioural difficulties.  
  • adolescents who entered foster care later but had low placement instability showed lower rates of childbirth when compared to those with high placement instability; nonetheless, the rate of childbirth among those with low instability was relatively high.  
  • Consistent with previous research, childbirth was more common among Latina females than any other racial and ethnic group. The reason behind the adolescents’ removal from their family homes has been shown to impact their struggle to remain stable 
  • Those in the Late Entry/High Instability group were more likely to be removed from the family home based on caretaker absence or incapacity, while those in the Late Entry/Low Instability group were removed due to physical or sexual abuse. Adolescents’ in the Early Entry/High Instability class also had moderately high rates of childbirth.   
  • adolescents’ who entered foster care early into a family-based setting and had more stable placements showed the lowest rate of childbirth. Consistent with other research, this group is considered to be resilient 


  •  possibility of missing or incorrect data in either administrative data sets 
  • due to updates in the case management system, there are incomplete foster care histories meaning that some re-entries into care may not be accounted for 
  • lack of information regarding the decision-making process affecting placement 


None stated.