The Georgia Cold Case Project
or had given birth; one was pregnant for the second time. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the true prevalence of sexual activity is likely much higher. Almost half of youth in foster care engaged in sexual activity before turning 16, compared to 30% of youth outside of the foster care system.26 The birth rate for girls in care is double that for girls outside of foster care (17% vs. 8%).27 A University of Chicago study of youth transitioning out of foster care in three states found that foster care girls were more than twice as likely as the general population of youth in America to have at least one child.28
Focus groups about sexual activity conducted with foster care youth have revealed several themes of interest: foster youth have access to information about sex and pregnancy, but some feel it is offered too little, too late; foster youth face a lot of pressure to have sex; and foster youth see many benefits to having a baby.29 These data show that not only is sexual activity a serious issue among foster youth, but the experiences and perspectives of foster youth may differ from youth not in care. This calls into question the effectiveness of standard sexual education programs on this population.
Georgia should develop an age-specific and medically appropriate reproductive health class for annual participation by foster teens in care. If possible, current and former foster youth should be included in the development and delivery of the message. Incorporating the connection to family and adults (Recommendation #3) is also critical, as research clearly demonstrates that strong relationships between teens and parents/adults can deter sexual activity.30 Judges are becoming more proactive in this issue, having conversations with teens on the bench and off about preventing pregnancy, birth control, family planning, and pregnancy options.31 If judges are aware of the services available in their community, they can provide appropriate referrals to youth in dependency court. With the courts, DFCS and other community agencies working together, teens in care can be provided with the information and support needed to make the best decisions possible about sexual health and family planning.
Recommendation #14: Utilize adoption counselors and specially trained staff to reduce resistance to adoption.
Case managers often cited “teens not wanting to be adopted” as one of the primary reasons for not selecting adoption as a permanency plan. After lives of chaos and disappointments it is not surprising that so many foster teens are leery of adoption. Expansion of the use of adoption counselors and training of DFCS case managers to work with youth that are resistant to adoption are strongly recommended. The “Talking With Youth: Preparing Everyone for Permanent Family Connections” is one such curriculum which can assist social welfare staff to develop the specialized skills to facilitate conversations about permanency with resistant teenagers.32 Every child deserves to be a part of a loving family and specially trained professionals can help youth overcome their fears and open themselves to the possibility of finding a family.
Recommendation #15: Expand family dependency treatment courts statewide.
Family Dependency Treatment Courts (FDTC) are problem-solving courts that work with families with deprivation cases due to substance abuse. Using