Teen pregnancies have been declining in recent decades, but that's not the case for all young women; 58 percent of L.A.'s female foster youths have experienced at least one pregnancy by the age of 19.
Now, the county is partnering with youth groups to launch the Los Angeles Reproductive Health Equity Project for Foster Youth in an effort to curb the numbers
Why foster youths experience higher rates of teen pregnancies
“Two-thirds of the young people in foster care who are becoming pregnant are saying that those pregnancies were unintended,” said LeGras. “When we’re talking about foster youth having children, the predominant narrative is that they are trying to fill a void, but the data actually flies in contradiction to that.”
Childhood trauma including past sexual assault can play a role in how young people relate to their reproductive health.
“Young people, by virtue of feeling a lack of control of their life, may also feel a lack of control about their reproductive decisions,” LeGras said.
Kids in foster care can get shuffled from multiple group homes and foster families while growing up. Along with moving homes,also comes a change in school making it tough to guarantee consistent sex education in the classroom. All the moving around means that by the time foster youth reach adolescence, they likely lack consistent adult supervision and guidance when it comes to "the talk," not to mention, a lack of trusted adults to ask about sensitive questions.
Even if kids get to stay more or less in the same environment, not all care givers in the foster care system are equally knowledgeable of their obligations. “There are some environments that obviously you do have more responsible adults interacting with the young person and others you don’t,” said L.A. County Supervisor, Hilda Solis. “What we’re trying to get to right now is how can we improve upon that to make sure that we are leveling the playing field and giving the right information and guidance and support.”
By law, foster youths are supposed to be guaranteed reproductive healthcare, but there’s no comprehensive method of ensuring that actually happens. Caregivers may not be aware of their responsibilities in that capacity, such as providing transportation to receive health care services.
How L.A. County and partner organizations can decrease teen pregnancies in the foster care system
Address inherent challenges
A lot of the work required to reduce pregnancy rates among foster youth has to do with improving the quality of care within the system in general. “Our work is about dismantling the systemic barriers that young people in foster care face with regard to accessing reproductive health care and services,” LeGras said.
Sexual education and access to healthcare
The initiative will focus on educating providers and youth of their rights and reproductive options. “Making sure that there are check-ups, that there are valuable tools made available to theses young women and they fully understand what choices they have," said Supervisor Solis. "And that is what I think is lacking right now."
There will also be a continued focus on supporting expecting parents within the system so they can complete their education and move onto fruitful lives. "We have conferences for young parents in foster care," said LeGras. "They have a roundtable of supportive adults to help them plan out the next steps in their lives including their educational goals, career goal, their future family planning goals to ensure that they have their wrap-around support needed.”
It's a two-way street
“Young men also need to get that comprehensive sex education," said LeGras. "The adults that are in their lives also need to be providing that information to young men just as much as young women.”