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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 1, No. 1
Winter 1995

Placement vs. Parenting: How Do Teens Decide?

Perhaps you are working with a family as a social worker in CPS, foster care, or adoption. Many different reasons may have brought you into contact with this family--abuse or neglect, temporary placement of a child, or placing an adopted child with this family. However, the family's concern has shifted to a pregnant teen who is making decisions about parenting versus adoption. While the health care provider who diagnosed the pregnancy has provided preliminary counseling about options and continues to follow up, your relationship with the family, which existed prior to this young woman's pregnancy, brings you into the decision-making process.

As you plan your interventions, you may wonder what distinguishes a teen who parents from one who chooses to place, and what keeps a teen from changing her mind once a placement decision is made.

In Characteristics of Unmarried Adolescent Mothers: Determinants of Child Rearing Versus Adoption, authors Resnick and colleagues consider these questions. Their article reports the results of a comparison between 59 teens who planned to place their infants for adoption with 59 parenting teens. The goal of the study was to identify differences between the two groups.

Neither of these groups of young women considered abortion as an option, even though few planned their pregnancy. As expected, those who chose adoption had higher educational aspirations and plans for the future than those who chose to parent.

A more interesting finding, particularly for child welfare workers, is that many of those who chose adoption had firsthand knowledge of someone who was adopted. For some, this was a sibling or other relative, while others had been adopted themselves. The young women who chose to parent had no knowledge of anyone who had been adopted or had placed a child for adoption. In fact, those who chose to parent described adoption as something incomprehensible to them: they considered it a selfish act and reported they would be emotionally unable to handle placing a child. Young women who placed their children saw adoption in the opposite way. They believed their action to be an altruistic one--something that would give their child a better life.

The decision to place a child for adoption is not an easy one. Many teens think about this choice and may even start the process, only to change their minds at some point in the pregnancy or after the birth of the child. A 1993 article by Dworkin, Harding, and Schreiber examines a different dimension of the adoption decision--what predicts whether the teen will remain consistent in her decision to place. Parenting or Placing: Decision Making by Pregnant Teens describes a study testing whether factors that influence the initial decision to place (such as knowledge of adoption, sociodemographic characteristics, psychological traits, and social relationships) also predict the consistency of the choice.

The study found that of those teens who planned to place their child, 20 percent changed their minds by the time their child was born. Only one of the tested factors influenced a young woman's decision to place--the birth father's influence.

Other studies have highlighted the important role of the teen' mother, whose support of adoption is a major influence on the decision to place. While this may be true for the initial decision making process, the stamina to stick with the process of adoption throughout a pregnancy may require a different sort of social support.

If the birth father is hesitant or unwilling to relinquish his rights, the entire adoption equation may become unbalanced. Even if the young mother and her family are otherwise prepared to give up the child, if another family in their neighborhood or community will be the ones assuming custody, they may decide to keep the child.

Both of these studies point to the need for a continuum of services for pregnant teens, their families, and teen fathers. While the mother-to-be and her family may seem to be and may want to be the only focus for services, the teen father cannot be ignored. It is important to recognize that significant numbers of teens change their minds about adoption, and so need to be prepared for the role of parent. And finally, if adoption continues to be promoted by policymakers as a solution for the difficulties of teen pregnancy, the general public needs more information to change perceptions about adoption.


Resnick, M. D., Blum, R. W., Bose, J., Smith, M. & Toogood, R. (1990). Characteristics of unmarried adolescent mothers: Determinants of child rearing versus adoption. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 60(4), 577-584.

Dworkin, R. J., Harding, J. T., & Schreiber, N. B. (1993). Parenting or placing: Decision making by pregnant teens. Youth & Society, 25 (1), 75-92.

1995 Jordan Institute for Families