SCIE Research briefing 9: Preventing teenage pregnancy in looked after children

Published August 2004

Updated August 2005

Introduction - What is the issue?

Levels of teenage pregnancy in the UK are high relative to other European countries. The Government is aiming to reduce by half the level of teenage pregnancy in under 18s, and to create a downward trend in under 16s, by 2010. This briefing focuses on the prevention of pregnancy among a specific group: looked after children and young people. Looked after children (LAC) is a generic term introduced in the Children Act 1989 to describe children and young people "subject to care orders (placed into the care of local authorities by order of a court) and children accommodated by voluntary agreement of their parents". LAC usually live in foster homes, but may also be in residential placements or with family members.

Key messages

  • Teenagers who become parents are known to experience greater educational, health, social and economic difficulties than young people who are not parents. Looked after children and young people are at greater risk of early pregnancy and social disadvantage than other groups. The prevention of teenage pregnancy among looked after children and young people therefore poses particular problems and may have significant beneficial outcomes
  • The principal risk factors associated with teenage pregnancy, such as socio-economic deprivation; limited involvement in education; low educational attainment; limited access to consistent, positive adult support; being a child of a teenage mother; low self esteem; and experience of sexual abuse, are to be found more often in the looked after population than among children and young people who are not in care
  • Strategy and policy documents regarding services and practices to reduce teenage pregnancy in general are available, but there is little on looked after children and young people specifically
  • Access to good quality sex and relationship education has been demonstrated to reduce levels of teenage pregnancy and looked after children and young people are known to have less access to good quality, consistent sources of sex and relationship education and advice than many other children and young people
  • Research and policy literature currently focuses on the provision of appropriate and adequate sex and relationship education in conjunction with accessible contraceptive services as the means of reducing teenage pregnancy. The limitations of school-based programmes for looked after children are widely recognised; additional sex and relationship education is therefore recommended
  • Authorities that consult young people and develop specialist sexual health services for young people have greater success in reducing teenage pregnancy


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