Teen Pregnancy in the Courtroom

By Parker-Sawyers, Paula | Policy & Practice, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Teen Pregnancy in the Courtroom


Parker-Sawyers, Paula, Policy & Practice


On any given day, in any juvenile delinquency or dependency court, somewhere in this country, there sits a judge reviewing the case of a juvenile who is pregnant, parenting or who has fathered a child. Others find themselves adjudicating cases involving young adults who have experienced an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.

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The intersection of teen and unplanned pregnancy and the juvenile court system occurs more often than any community desires and poses complex issues for judges and the child welfare workers who assist the courts. In a number of these cases, judges not only wear the robe of justice, they often take on the role of parent, counselor and sex education instructor--or facilitate someone else who assumes this role. For many young people, words of wisdom from the bench about unhealthy relationships, unprotected sex and lack of personal responsibility are new and unfamiliar.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy recently conducted a survey of NCJFCJ members about teen and unplanned pregnancy in juvenile dependency and delinquency courts. Overall, respondents to the survey agreed that preventing teen and unplanned pregnancy is an important issue in their jurisdiction, and nearly one-quarter have taken action steps to address teen pregnancy. However, very few judges have addressed the broader issue of the stubbornly high rate of unplanned pregnancy, particularly among single, young adults.

Nearly 90 percent of all respondents agreed that "teen pregnancy is a concern to me in my professional role." Seven in 10 agreed that more than half the cases in their court involved youths at risk of causing a pregnancy or becoming pregnant and more than half agreed that the number of cases involving pregnant youths is considered high by the community's standards.

Nearly nine in 10 respondents agreed that "unplanned pregnancy for adults with children involved in the juvenile dependency (child abuse) system is a concern to me in my professional role," and fully two-thirds agreed that the issue is prevalent in their jurisdiction. About half the respondents agreed that the number of cases involving parents or guardians who already have children involved in the child abuse and neglect system, and then experience an unplanned pregnancy, is considered high by their communities' standards.

Overall, 24 percent of respondents to the survey reported that they have taken specific action steps to address teen pregnancies, and 2 percent reported that they have taken specific action steps to address unplanned pregnancies. Among those who are addressing the issue of teen pregnancy, their actions include providing services to pregnant teens, putting in place specific programs or mentoring projects to reach teens, referring teens to other service organizations, and developing specific teams to address the issue of teen pregnancy prevention. …

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