Preventing Unintended Pregnancy Among Foster Youth
While the rate of unintended pregnancy among teens and young adults in the United States has reached a 30‐year low, this reduction has not been experienced by youth in foster care. Senate Bill 245 would decrease the rate of unintended pregnancy among youth in California’s foster care by improving access to comprehensive sexual health education, ensuring that the current reproductive rights of foster youth are met, and training child welfare personnel on reproductive health topics using a statewide curriculum.
SB 245 would reduce unintended pregnancy among youth in foster care in California by implementing four provisions:
Ensure Access to Comprehensive Sexual Health Education for Foster Youth
Ensuring foster youth have direct access to information about sexual health and preventing unintended pregnancies is essential to reduce the disproportionately high rate of unintended pregnancy among foster youth in California. SB 245 would achieve this using a two-part approach. First, it would require all county child welfare workers to ask foster youth, ages 12 or older, whether they participated in school based sexual health education based in the following timeframes:
- Once before age 12;
- Once between ages 12 and 14;
- Two times between ages 15 and 18 and
- Once between the ages of 19 and 21.
If the foster youth has participated in school-based sexual health education that complies with the timeframe above, then the social worker would document this in the foster youth’s health and education passport. If the foster youth has not participated in a school based sexual health education class within this timeframe, the child welfare worker would be required to refer the youth to a county or community resource that provides sexual health education that meets the standards established by the California Health Youth Act (AB 329 (2015)). This referral would be documented in the youth’s health and education passport.
Ensure the Existing Reproductive Rights of Foster Youth are Met
Currently in state law, foster youth have the right to age-appropriate, medically accurate information on puberty, reproductive and sexual health care, the prevention of unintended pregnancies, and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections. The law is silent, however, about whose responsibility it is to provide this information, leaving many foster youth without this important information. SB 245 will address this by requiring the social worker to documenting annually how the child welfare agency ensures the youth has access to this information.
Train Child Welfare Personnel on Sexual Health and Preventing Unintended Pregnancy
To reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy among youth in foster care, SB 245 would add requirements in the Welfare and Institutions Code and the Health and Safety Code to require the topic of unintended pregnancy prevention and sexual health to be included in training for social workers, judges, licensed foster parents, relative caregiver, group home personnel and personnel working for foster family agencies. This approach has been used successfully to improve child welfare practice and address emerging issues facing the state’s most vulnerable children and youth. In 2013 AB 868 added new training requirements to ensure the needs of lesbian and gay youth in foster care. In 2014, SB 855 added new training requirement on the topic of the commercial sexual exploitation of youth in foster care and finally in in 2015 Senate Bill 238 added new training requirements to train child welfare stakeholder on the use of psychotropic medication among youth in foster care.
Develop a Statewide Standardized Curriculum on Sexual Health and Preventing Unintended Pregnancy for Child Welfare Workers
Despite an explicit state mandate that child welfare provide youth with information about sexual health and preventing unintended pregnancy, the State of California has no resources to train child welfare personnel on these topics. Without standardized training and related materials, county child welfare personnel often fail to address these critical topics, or improvise using medically inaccurate materials or materials that are not age-appropriate. Additionally, without standardized training and materials, child welfare personnel are not informed about their role in protecting the rights of youth in foster care. An example of this can be found in Fresno County, where a group home engaged in a range of illegal activities related to reproductive health and pregnancy prevention, including requiring youth to sign what amounted to a “chastity pledge” and confiscating contraception.