Prospectively track teen childbirths in maltreated and nonmaltreated females and test the hypothesis that child maltreatment is an independent predictor of subsequent teen childbirth over and above demographic characteristics and other risk factors.
Nulliparous adolescent females (N = 435) aged 14 to 17 years were assessed annually through age 19 years. Maltreated females were referred by Child Protective Services agencies for having experienced substantiated sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect within the preceding 12 months. Comparison females were matched on race, family income, age and family constellation. Teen childbirth was assessed via self-report during annual interviews. Births were confirmed using hospital delivery records.
Seventy participants gave birth during the study, 54 in the maltreated group and 16 in the comparison group. Maltreated females were twice as likely to experience teen childbirth after controlling for demographic confounds and known risk factors (odds ratio = 2.17, P = 0.01). Birth rates were highest for sexually abused and neglected females. Sexual abuse and neglect were both independent predictors of teen childbirth after controlling for demographic confounds, other risk factors and alternative forms of maltreatment occurring earlier in development.
Results provide evidence that sexual abuse and neglect are unique predictors of subsequent teen childbirth. Partnerships between protective service providers and teen childbirth prevention strategists hold the best promise for further reducing the US teen birth rate. Additional research illuminating the pathways to teen childbirth for differing forms of maltreatment is needed so that tailored interventions can be realized.