Texas is experiencing a teen pregnancy crisis in its foster care system, and experts say it is aided by the state’s widespread use of abstinence-only sex education programs. They caution that if Texas does not change its approach, the current rate of pregnant girls—more than half who age out of foster care will become pregnant by 20—will only increase.

The Texas Observer published Rebecca Grant’s “Expecting Care” this week (January 22), which examines the failings of the foster care system’s approach to sex education and teen pregnancy. While the article does not reference the racial breakdown of the children in the state’s foster care system, a 2018 report from the Child Welfare League of America states that 42 percent were Latinx and 21 percent were Black in 2015.

The article details the life of one girl, Arianna, who entered the foster care system when she was 13 years old. Three years later, she was pregnant. Less than a year after that, she became pregnant with her second child:

“All my friends that I was in placements with—every single one—either has a kid or is pregnant right now,” Arianna said.

[…]

Arianna’s story is startlingly common. Last year, the state revealed for the first time how many teen parents are in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). According to the most recent figures, 550 girls out of 5,226, or almost 11 percent, were either pregnant or parenting.

Girls aged 13 to 17 in foster care are nearly five times as likely as their peers to become pregnant, according to an April report by the nonprofit Texans Care for Children. For older teens, the risk is even higher: More than half of teen girls who age out or extend their time in care will become pregnant before they turn 20. The report concluded that the state’s efforts to prevent pregnancy among foster care youth are “inadequate” and that Texas is “falling short of fulfilling its responsibility to these children.”

Texas faces problems that are common to most states, including overwhelmed caseworkers and a lack of foster homes. However, experts say there are other state-specific reasons why Texas’s foster care system fails at preventing teen pregnancy:

But perhaps the most troubling and insidious dimension of the teen pregnancy problem in foster care is a culture of silence and stigma surrounding sex. Judges, foster parents, caseworkers and academics interviewed for this story described a system that discourages adults from sharing information with foster youth that would help them avoid unplanned pregnancies. The influence of the religious right is so strong that some foster parents fear repercussions for offering even cursory sex education. Making matters worse, once girls become parents, the state is ill-equipped to provide support.

[…]

“In Texas, we have this cultural belief that when you are talking about sex, someone else will do it better, or that teen is not going to have sex,” said [sex educator Morgan] Miles. “That cultural view affects the policies and parents’ ability to talk about it.”

Schools are also unable to tackle it. In districts across the state, more than 83 percent teach abstinence-only or no sex education at all, according to The Texas Observer. While the problems with abstinence-only sex education are well documented, recent legislation hints that the state is not moving to remedy it:

A law passed by the Texas Legislature in 2017 makes it easier for faith-based agencies to invoke “sincerely held religious beliefs” in refusing to provide services. Agencies and foster parents can decline to make referrals for contraception, turn away LGBTQ parents who want to foster or adopt, and even choose not to immunize kids. Critics of the bill said it was a naked attempt to give conservative Christians the right to discriminate.

“People are scared because of the state we live in and the messages we have,” [former caseworker Monica] Faulkner said. “And we have people who will literally go after you. I think it’s a legitimate fear.”

Read the full article here.