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What Are the Risk Factors for Pregnant and Parenting Teens and Their Children?

Sherrie Segovia, PsyD

May 1, 2023

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Question

What are the risk factors for pregnant and parenting teens and their children?

Answer

Unfortunately, many risk factors and negative outcomes are associated with teen parents.

  • Strong link between intimate partner violence (IPV) and teen mothers
  • Strong link between child abuse and teen mothers
  • Strong risk for repeat pregnancies within teen years
  • Strong risk for depression and suicidal behaviors
  • Strong propensity for children with multiple partners

Research has shown that 70% of intimate partner violence victims experienced their first IPV incident before age 25, and a quarter of them before they turned 18. I found that addressing IPV with teens was more challenging since their parents and partners were not necessarily living in the same household, so identifying and providing support was always difficult. Child welfare global sources indicate higher rates of child abuse for both the parent and the child.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics indicate 25% of teen moms have their second child within 24 months of their first baby, and in some states, they have two or three during their teen years. Related to this point, less than 2% of teen moms earn a college degree by age 30, which is unfortunate because studies have shown a strong correlation between maternal education and their children's academic outcomes.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA). Since partnerships are brief between teens their age, particularly young fathers tend to have children with multiple and sometimes simultaneous mothers. We served children from the same father and different mothers at my agency a few times, which got complicated. I once had the incredible experience of working with a teen father who was only 14 years of age, and I can't tell you how much that impacted my team and me. Surprisingly, he was very attentive to his child and open to feedback.

There are inherent risks associated with teen pregnancies that are often multiple and multi-generational, including prior adverse childhood experiences, otherwise known as ACEs, which involve any type of trauma or abuse experienced under age 18. Generally speaking, the younger the teen parent, the more increased risks there are. I once worked with a 10-year-old who became pregnant after being molested by a family member. Unfortunately, both were placed in foster care in separate homes. Teen parents tend to engage in problematic behaviors, including poor nutrition, substance use, unhealthy relationships with their parents and peers, and negative attitudes toward authority.

Risks for Children of Teens

  • Low birth weight
  • Developmental delay/disability
  • Higher risk for child abuse/neglect/foster care
  • Dropping out of school
  • Health problems
  • Incarceration 
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Underemployment/unemployment

Because of their physical and social immaturity, preterm labor is more common in teens, resulting in low birth weight and developmental delays or disabilities. Typically, pregnancies aren't planned. I often worked with multi-generations of teen pregnancies, and I was astonished by the young age of the grandmothers, who were sometimes in their early 30s and with a child about the same age or younger as their grandchild. We frequently served grandmothers and mothers in our program who had young children.

This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course Kids with Kids: How to Support Thempresented by Sherrie Segovia, PsyD.


sherrie segovia

Sherrie Segovia, PsyD

Dr. Segovia received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Psychology and was principally affiliated with community-based mental health and social service organizations. For over 40 years, Dr. Segovia primarily worked with marginalized African American and Latino children and their families in clinic, school, and home settings.

She has functioned as a counselor, family and child advocate, parent educator, and foster care training specialist. As the Clinical Manager at Hope Street Family Center for over 25 years, Dr. Segovia worked within a multi-disciplinary team to access, coordinate, and provide families with appropriate services. She provided clinical and administrative support and reflective supervision to Early Head Start professional case managers, as well as assessment, crisis intervention, and ongoing therapy for families and children.

Dr. Segovia was a frequent presenter at national, state, and regional conferences. She also co-wrote an article on infant mental health for Zero To Three and other publications. Dr. Segovia has also been an expert speaker on Channel 22 Telemundo and Channel 34 Univision as well as radio stations. In December 2003, she completed her Doctorate in Psychology and a dissertation with a focus on domestic violence and its impact on early language development.

Since 2004, Dr. Segovia served as a lead faculty for undergraduate and graduate courses in human services, psychology, and counseling in the college of social and behavioral sciences at the University of Phoenix. Additionally, Dr. Segovia facilitated a course on Parenting in High-Risk Families in the Child and Family Studies Department at California State University in Los Angeles.  She was also affiliated with the Latino Technical Assistance & Training Division of the California Hispanic Commission as an educational consultant. She served as a member of the board of directors for the California Head Start Association. Dr. Segovia’s specific areas of expertise include parental depression and anxiety, substance abuse, cultural competence, communication skills, parenting, and partnerships. Bilingual and bicultural herself, Dr. Segovia has a particular interest in culturally responsive service delivery.  


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