Stoneleigh Fellow Meredith Matone and her PolicyLab colleague Kirby Wycoff talk about the challenges experienced by pregnant teenagers in foster care.
May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and there is no better time to talk about the complex landscape of sexual and reproductive health for teens. Pregnancy in adolescence can create challenges for youth, including delays in education, fewer job opportunities and decreased familial, social and economic stability. These challenges are often even greater for teenagers who are involved in the foster care system.
Exploring one’s sexuality and navigating intimate interpersonal relationships is a developmentally appropriate aspect of later adolescence and emerging adulthood. Further, what exploration and navigation is developmentally appropriate for an 11 year old will rarely be appropriate for a 17 year old. The balance between delaying the age that someone is first sexually active or becomes pregnant and recognizing the role of healthy sexual development and exploration are often framed as being in direct conflict with one another. But by pathologizing sexuality exploration and expression with a sole focus on risk reduction and problem behaviors, we miss the opportunity to empower youth to make safe and healthy decisions. The significance of this missed opportunity may be even more relevant for marginalized and under-resourced groups, including teens who are involved in the foster care system.