Teenage Mothers and Their Children: What Is the Return Policy of Child Protective Services?.

Author:Pollack, Daniel
Position:Legal notes - U.S. Supreme Court's plurality ruling in Troxel v. Granville

The media has saturated us with information and images of unaccompanied immigrant children being separated from their mothers. The heartbreak of these scenes is poignant. It is no less so for the thousands of children who are U.S. citizens who are removed from their parents. In particular, how frequently does a single teenage mother get reunified with her child once Child Protective Services (CPS) has removed them? If the child is returned, how long does that usually take?

According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), of the children exiting foster care during FY 2016 (n = 250,248), 51 percent or 125,975, were reunified with their parent(s) or primary caretaker. (1) But in terms of teenage mothers reunified with their children once CPS removed them, there seems to be no reliable national data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2015 "a total of 229,715 babies were born to women aged 15-19 years, for a birth rate of 22.3 per 1,000 women in this age group." (2) With some local geographical exceptions, the teenage birth has clearly been declining. In graph form, the trend is depicted in Figure 1.

The CDC goes on to report that, "Teens in child welfare systems are at higher risk of teen pregnancy and birth than other groups. For example, young women living in foster care are more than twice as likely to become pregnant than those not in foster care." (3)

We generally believe that maturity comes with age. Yet even for the most organized and savvy parent, successfully nurturing a young child is a challenge. For teenage mothers the trials are especially daunting. Among the struggles teenage mothers face are poverty, drug use, depression, eating disorders, and an assortment of physical, emotional, developmental, and cognitive problems. It is no wonder that CPS may need to get involved, often having to remove a child from their parent--presently, approximately 700-800 times each day. (4)

Ordinarily, CPS only removes a child when it unequivocally needs to protect the child from maltreatment. This is usually done by either court order obtained prior to removal or subsequent to an emergency removal.

In either case, the presumed goal is to return the child to their...

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