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Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood for Care Leavers in Australia

Written on June 27, 2017

Recently the National Children’s Commissioner was seeking responses about the issues of teenage pregnancy and parenthood. CREATE provided a submission on this issue and how it effects young people in care and leaving care. We were also invited to attend a series of round table discussions held in Brisbane Sydney, Perth and Melbourne

While we were putting this together, we noticed that there is not a huge amount of research about young people in care or leaving care who are parents, or who became parents as teenagers. We were able to provide information however, on how young people leaving care are more likely to be parents or become parents than their peers who were not in care.

We also pointed out that while many young parents face levels of stigma, this is especially challenging for young people in care or who have left care. The stigma they feel is related to being in care and many young people have said that it make it hard for them to seek support, as a result.

Our submission was well received and the National Children’s Commissioner asked CREATE to do a presentation on these issues as the directly affect young people in or transitioning from care. We delivered this at the Brisbane round table event, the first of a series of round tables across Australia.

Care Leavers are over-represented

Our presentation noted that care leavers are over-represented in teenage pregnancy and parenthood (Mendes, 2009). In fact, they are (on average) 2 – 3 times more likely to become pregnant than their peers who are not in care (Radely et al., 2016).

One study found that 1 in 3 young women were either pregnant or had given birth soon after leaving care, and several years later, 57% of the same group had become parents (Cashmore & Paxman, 1996, 2007). Another study of 60 care leavers found 17% had become pregnant while in care or shortly after transitioning from care (Raman et al., 2005)

Overseas research indicates that between a third and a half of young people leaving care are either parents when they leave care, or become parents soon after. McDowall (2009) found that of 471 young people sampled regarding their leaving care experience, 28%, where already parents themselves.

Judgement and Stigma

Young people report feeling judged, while common parental experiences such as tiredness, and uncertainty, are exacerbated due to this judgement.

The impact of being “stereotyped as … irresponsible… immature… and incompetent at raising children” (McArthur & Barry, 2013, p. 3) means that they are also far less likely to seek support due to their perception of a “surveillance bias” (Widom et al., 2015) from child protection and other services.

(The worker) said to me it’s such a shame seeing kids who grew up in care having kids so young… let’s hope he doesn’t end up in care too (young woman aged 26 years).

Multiple placements experienced by young people while in care often contribute to a lack of parental mentoring suitable to equip young people as parents (Manning, 2017; Mendes, 2009).

The stigma they face compounds these issue even more. Stigma is often reinforced by the level of child protection intervention experienced by young people, who have transitioned from care (CREATE, 2017).

Part of the lived experience of young parents, and particularly young women who have transitioned from care, is Stigma and it impacts significantly on their capacity to confidently parent their own children.

I’m always very cautious about everything I do with my kids… I’m afraid (the department) will try and remove my kids… by using my past against me (young woman aged 24 years)

Making things better

Based on available evidence, early intervention is the best place to start, including engagement and specific support and stability and after care support (Mendes, 2009).

Focused parental support and mentoring and a support person to act as their substitute mum or dad while young people attempt to navigate the care and health systems as young parents (Manning, 2017).

Support to access health services and relationship assistance (McArthur & Barry, 2013).

Young mums in care need specifically tailored (accommodation) which support and encourage their relationship with their baby (young woman aged 24 years).

Clearly, young people young people in care or preparing to transition from care from care, face unique challenges with regard to teenage pregnancy and parenthood. Based on what young people have said, CREATE will continue to engage in this issue to better understand what can be done to assist young people with this important issue.


read our position papers


Cashmore, J., & Paxman, M. (1996). Longitudinal study of wards leaving care. Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre New South Wales Department of Community Services.

Cashmore, J., & Paxman, M. (2006). Wards leaving care: Five years on. Sydney: New South Wales Department of Community Services.

Courtney, M., & Dworsky, A. (2005). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 19. Chicago: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.

CREATE Foundation. (2017). Position paper: Stigma in Out of Home Care. Sydney: CREATE Foundation.

Manning, L. (2017). Listening to young mothers from out-of-home care. Melbourne: Department of General Practice, Melbourne Medical School, University of Melbourne.

McArthur, M., & Barry, E. (2013). Younger mothers: Stigma and support. Research to Practice  Series, 3, 1–6. Canberra: Institute of Child Protection Studies, ACU.

McDowall, J. J. (2009). CREATE Report Card 2009 – Transition from care: Tracking progress. Sydney: CREATE Foundation. 

Mendes, P. (2009). Improving outcomes for teenage pregnancy and early parenthood for young people in out of home care: A literature review. Youth Studies Australia, 28(4), 11–18.

Radey, M., Schelbe, L., McWey, L. M., Holtrop, K., & Canto, A. I. ( 2016). It’s really overwhelming:  Parent and service provider perspectives of parents aging out of foster care. Children and Youth Services Review. 67, 1–10.

Raman, S., Inder, B., & Forbes, C. S. (2005). Investing for success: The economics of supporting young people leaving care. Melbourne: Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare.

Widom, C. S., Czaja, S. J., & DuMont, K. A. (2015). Intergenerational transmission of child abuse and  neglect: Real or detection bias? Science, 347(6229), 1480–1485.