It’s official. Baby Emerich now has a "forever family” that will love him and support him for a lifetime. You may be asking, "who’s baby Emerich”, or as I like to call him "E.” I have been blessed to celebrate his young life not only as the adopted son of my best friends Seth and Shelly -- two people that have been in my life since I was 12 years old -- but also as the birth-son of a foster youth.
While Emerich’s story has been filled with joy and celebration, his biological parents’ experience highlights the experience of many youth and young adults aging out of our state child welfare system.
Emerich’s birth mother recently aged out of foster care. She was pregnant, scared, and desperately fighting to prevent her child from experiencing the same chaos and trauma she endured while in the foster care system. Thankfully, his biological mother’s resiliency gave Emerich the chance to find a "forever home” where he would never be harmed, and more importantly, "forever” loved and supported.
Teen pregnancy in foster care is disturbingly high. While Emerich’s birthmother found a way to meet the needs of her unborn child and ensure her own well-being, she is unfortunately the exception. The Midwest Evaluation, a Chapin Hall longitudinal study of three states, found that approximately 51% of adolescent girls in foster care became parents by the age of 21 and were at an increased risk of reentering the child welfare system for maltreatment of their own children [i]. Our state has noted this same cycle of child welfare involvement, reporting that 1 in 30 perpetrators were also confirmed victims of abuse and neglect as children between 2005 and 2009.
This revolving door of CPS involvement is well documented. Since these parenting children are in the care of our state, we have a critical responsibility to help these young parents find a better future and prevent the continued cycle of mistreatment. Fortunately, Emerich won’t be represented in such devastating statistics—and for that, we are forever thankful that his young birth mother was able to stop the cycle of trauma for Emerich and give him a chance to thrive for a lifetime.
What our State Must Do
In order to better identify the causes of renewed involvement of former foster youth in the child protective system once they become parents, the state should collect data on the number of pregnant and parenting youth, including information about whether or not the child of the dependent parent has been placed in foster care. Additionally, in order to break the cycle of child welfare system involvement, as caregiver to these young parents, the state must provide them with support -- parenting training, support services to help them care for their children, and care and education to support these vulnerable youth in making appropriate, informed family planning choices. These support services will help promote the long-term success of these children and their own children as well.
[i] Courtney, M. E., Hook, J. L., & Lee, J. S. (2010) Distinct Subgroups of Former Foster Youth during the Transition to Adulthood: Implications for Policy and Practice. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago