Abused and neglected girls become teen mothers at nearly five times the overall national rate, according to a study led by Cincinnati Children’s and published online in the journal Pediatrics. 

The birth rate was 20.3 percent among a group of abused or neglected girls included in the study. That compares to a national teen birth rate of about 4 percent, says lead author Jennie Noll, PhD, director of research in the Division of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology.

The increased risk remained twice as high as normal even when compared to a control group of non-abused girls who closely matched the abused girls in terms of race, family income and whether they lived in single-parent households, Noll says.

Teen abuse and neglect victims appear to have distinct approaches to sexual activity compared to non-abused girls.  As a result, these girls may need more-focused interventions to prevent early pregnancy, and Noll says there may be a unique pathway to provide that help.

“Because victims of maltreatment are processed through child protective service agencies, caseworkers have a golden opportunity to educate these teen girls about the risk for, and consequences of, teen childbirth,” Noll says.

These findings come from a larger, ongoing study at Cincinnati Children’s that is tracking social attitudes and behaviors among a group of 14- to 17-year-old girls as they grow up. Such prospective studies are very rare, Noll says.