Know their Rights: Advocating for Pregnant and Parenting Teens in Foster Care

Christine Runion

Christine Runion

The lines can be blurry for advocating for pregnant and parenting teens (PPT) in foster care. Do they have the same rights as their peers also in foster care? As adults? Understanding the legal rights of the youth you work with is essential in addressing the challenges of the system and your advocacy efforts.

A 2009 study by Chapin Hall of over 4,500 pregnant and parenting teens in foster care in Illinois found:

  • Although most pregnant teens in foster care received some prenatal care, more than one in five pregnancies involved either no prenatal care, or care that began during the third trimester;
  • Twenty-two percent of mothers were investigated for child maltreatment, and 11% had one or more of their children placed in foster care;
  • Only 44% of young women and 27% of young men had received a high school diploma or GED;
  • 86% of the youth were African American; and
  • Almost 25% of teen mothers in the study had two or more children.

There are several laws and regulations that protect PPT in foster care. It is important advocates are aware of these rights, because many times, youth are not:

  • Youth who become parents while they are minors have the same rights as an adult parent. Unless the state has a compelling reason to remove a child from their parents (i.e., abuse or neglect), the state may violate a constitutional right if they remove a child from the teen parent’s custody.
  • Fathers of any age who were not married to the mother at the child’s birth and do not live with the child may have to affirmatively establish legal rights to their child.
  • A child born to youth in foster care cannot be taken into custody and formally placed in foster care simply because his/her parent is in care.
  • When a youth is in foster care and his or her child is in the same foster home or institution, maintenance payments made to the foster parent or institution shall include amounts necessary for the care of the child.
  • Payments must cover the cost of food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, liability insurance with respect to the child, and reasonable travel for the child’s visitation with family or other caretakers.

To best support PPT in foster care, ensure that the youth has a lawyer who can protect his or her rights as a parent. Also, advocate for services for the youth, including physical and mental health services and parenting support.

What is the best way to help educate PPT in foster care about their rights? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Christine Runion is a Marketing and Communications Associate at Healthy Teen Network.

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