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Abstract

Pregnant and parenting youth in foster care and their children experience a variety of adverse outcomes related to education, employment, placement stability, and child maltreatment. Although the risks associated with pregnancy and childbearing are well documented in the research on young parents in foster care, less research focuses on their parenting experiences in the child welfare context. This dissertation uses life course development and reproductive justice frameworks to investigate how the child welfare system shapes the transition to parenthood for parenting youth in foster care in Illinois. This is a narrative study that analyzes data from 40 in-depth interviews (N= 29 first interviews; N=11 second interviews) with 29 parenting youth in foster care. Three major findings are presented in the dissertation. First, findings demonstrate how young mothers’ identities and parenting decisions are developed by their relationships to self, to baby, to families of origin and friends, to their baby’s father, and to the child welfare system. Second, young mothers’ must navigate punitive surveillance, threat of child removal and monetary sanctions by the child welfare system as a common experience during their transitions to parenthood. Third, experiences in various child welfare placements and placement instability shape the transition to parenthood for pregnant and parenting youth in foster care. These three findings make a significant contribution to the research on pregnant and parenting youth in foster care, with major implications for child welfare policy and practice, as well as for future directions of scholarship on this population.

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