Hoping the state will track and support foster children who are pregnant or who are minor parents, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, filed House Bill 2330 last month. As a researcher on the topic of foster care parenthood, I applaud her leadership and hope her colleagues will vote in support of the legislation.
It would require the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to:
- Track demographic information on minors in foster care and their children such as age, ethnicity, type of substitute care and length of time in care.
- Make reports on that information public online.
- Offer “support in providing safe environments for children” such as education on safe sleeping arrangements, childproofing homes, coping with crying infants and other “parenting skills training” for minors with children.
- Recruit and train mentors and caregivers for minors with children in foster care.
Research on minors in foster care shows that their role as parents is simultaneously stressful, challenging and rewarding.
According to motherhood research on former foster care youth, they have a sense of hope and purpose within their role as parents that helps them break cycles of maltreatment with their children.
In a study of Midwestern foster youth transitioning out of foster care, researchers found that approximately one-fourth of former foster youth can be defined as “struggling parents” — young adults whose lives are defined by parenting under extremely challenging circumstances. When looking specifically at young women formerly in foster care, the same study found that by age 21, about 51 percent were living with at least one child.
Additional research suggests that these current and former foster youth are more likely than their peers to have children with more health and behavioral problems and are at increased risk of being involved with government child protective services. With national statistics showing more than half of foster care children and alumni having babies by age 21, HB 2330, if passed, would continue the conversation about education and support for these young parents.
To build on this research for my dissertation, I am conducting in-depth interviews with mothers who were in foster care and either had children during or after their time in care. So far, important themes connected to their struggles in poverty have emerged, like housing and food insecurity, lack of familial support and mental health issues related to trauma.
These mothers were struggling parents in the beginning — but their stories also reveal messages of resilient and accomplished parenting. We need to understand more about the struggles and successes of parents who have experienced foster care, to identify these youth and offer them the care they need and deserve. This bill will help us build on best practices.
I encourage lawmakers to vote for the bill, and also to provide financial support so that DFPS can accomplish all its goals. The future of these young parents depends on government support, as they are under state care.