Purpose: Homeless youth are at particularly high risk for teen pregnancy; research indicates as many as 20% of homeless young women become pregnant. These pregnant and homeless teens lack financial resources and adequate health care, resulting in increased risk for low-birth-weight babies and high infant mortality. This study investigated individual and family-level predictors of teen pregnancy among a national sample of runaway/homeless youth in order to better understand the needs of this vulnerable population.
Methods: Data from the Runaway/Homeless Youth Management Information System (RHY MIS) provided a national sample of youth seeking services at crisis shelters. A sub-sample of pregnant females and a random sub-sample (matched by age) of nonpregnant females comprised the study sample (N = 951). Chi-square and t tests identified differences between pregnant and nonpregnant runaway females; maximum likelihood logistic regression identified individual and family-level predictors of teen pregnancy.
Results: Teen pregnancy was associated with being an ethnic minority, dropping out of school, being away from home for longer periods of time, having a sexually transmitted disease, and feeling abandoned by one's family. Family factors, such as living in a single parent household and experiencing emotional abuse by one's mother, increased the odds of a teen being pregnant.
Conclusions: The complex problems associated with pregnant runaway/homeless teens create challenges for short-term shelter services. Suggestions are made for extending shelter services to include referrals and coordination with teen parenting programs and other systems of care.