CU Population Center

Institute of Behavioral Science

New research finds that nearly half of female adolescents in Colorado foster care report pregnancy

Adolescents within foster care are an often-overlooked population within reproductive health scholarship. New CUPC Faculty Affiliate Katie Combs is dedicated to improving knowledge about marginalized populations and their sexual and reproductive health attitudes, behaviors, and needs.

A recent study by Combs and colleagues found that among young adults with a history of foster care, 43% of females and 28% of males reporting a pregnancy from sexual relationships during their teenage years (Combs et al. 2018). The study examined a sample of over 200 young adults from the Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) study, reinterviewed when between the ages of 18 and 22. Parenthood was experienced by over a quarter of the participants, and was associated with lower educational attainment, less employment, and a history of homelessness.

Other studies have also found that about half of females aging out of foster care report a pregnancy by age 19, which is more than two times greater than pregnancy rates in a national sample of youth of similar age and racial composition (Dworsky and Courtney 2010). Combined, the results suggest a strong need for early pregnancy prevention efforts for youth with child welfare involvement — both men and women — combined with improvements resources and support for those who become young parents.

Combs and Dr. Jani Little (Director, Rocky Mountain Research Data Center) recently received CUPC seed funding to continue this line of inquiry. They are using the longitudinal data from the Fostering Healthy Futures for Teens (FHF-T) to further investigate trajectories of sexual and reproductive health, and to explore factors across adolescence that lead to contraceptive use and corresponding reductions in unintended pregnancy.

Dr. Combs has a Ph.D. in Social Work from the University of Denver and a Masters of Science in Public Health from UNC-Chapel Hill.

 Recent publications:

  • Begun, S., Combs, K. M., Schwan, K., Torrie, M., & Bender, K. (2020). “I know they would kill me”: Abortion attitudes and experiences among youth experiencing homelessness. Youth & Society52(8), 1457-1478. Link here.
  • Combs, K. M., Begun, S., Rinehart, D. J., & Taussig, H. (2018). Pregnancy and childbearing among young adults who experienced foster care. Child maltreatment23(2), 166-174. Link here.
  • Begun, S., Combs, K. M., Torrie, M., & Bender, K. (2019). “It seems kinda like a different language to us”: Homeless youths’ attitudes and experiences pertaining to condoms and contraceptives. Social work in health care58(3), 237-257. Link here.