Although the rates of pregnancy among teenagers have fallen steadily throughout the past decade, teenage pregnancy and parenthood remain serious problems in the United States. More than 800,000 teenagers become pregnant each year, and about a third of all young women experience a pregnancy before age 20 (Henshaw 2004; National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy 2004). The majority of teenagers who become pregnant are from disadvantaged backgrounds, and early pregnancy and childbirth create additional challenges. These teen parents and their children struggle with difficult circumstances in the short term and throughout their lives.
The problems facing pregnant and parenting teens are well documented. Teen mothers tend to be very poor, and most are single parents; this stress is often compounded by physical or sexual abuse and other health issues (U.S. DHHS 2000). Pregnancy can interrupt teens’ educational pursuits and early employment experiences (Maynard 1996). The negative outcomes associated with teenage pregnancy, including lifelong poverty and lengthy spells on public assistance, can follow mothers and their children for the rest of their lives (U.S. DHHS 2000). The daughters of teen mothers often become teen mothers themselves, with all the accompanying negative outcomes, thus perpetuating the intergenerational cycle of poverty and disadvantage.
Homelessness increases their risk of negative outcomes. Teens with tenuous living situations may have to leave their homes when they become pregnant. Pregnancy may be the final straw in an already unstable living situation, or their homes may be unsuitable environments in which to raise their babies due to issues of overcrowding, unsafe living conditions, domestic violence, or other extenuating circumstances. Teens in foster care who become pregnant may find that their current home is unable to accommodate their infant, and foster care placement cannot always ensure that a teen and her child will be placed together.
However, there are few housing options for pregnant and parenting teens who cannot live with a parent or responsible adult. Homeless shelters and battered women shelters often do not accept minor teens or their young children. Few teens have the financial and personal resources to live independently, particularly while caring for a young child, and teens facing housing instability are likely to be among the most disadvantaged. Furthermore, in some cases, teen parents must live in a supervised setting as a condition of receiving TANF benefits or as a condition of retaining custody of their babies.