Navigating child welfare: Adolescent mothers and the politics of regulation

Lauren Justine Silver, University of Pennsylvania


This study investigates the ways in which African American adolescent mothers gain access to resources and services in an urban child welfare system. Through an ethnographic lens, I consider how contemporary child welfare policy and the growth of public-private hybrids in the welfare sector shape the interactions between providers and young dependent or delinquent mothers. As the public climate shifts more firmly away from ideologies of entitlement to emphasize earning benefits, older youth find themselves having to meet performance expectations in order to remain in care. At the same time, the actualities of devolution and tight budgeting have meant increased communication breakdown among providers and thus, delayed and rationed services. My study examines how participants cope with the mismatch between expectations around education, employment, parenting and "self-sufficiency" and the reality in which young mothers are not sufficiently assisted to meet requirements. Ultimately the dissertation raises important questions concerning whether the "failure" of services can be explained, not as many have argued, in terms of the choices of the mothers and workers, but rather, in the nature of policies guiding program development and shaping the context in which service provision occurs. Analysis is drawn from a broad range of qualitative data including extensive interviews with adolescent mothers, case managers, and administrators; two years of participant observation accompanying mothers in numerous programmatic contexts; and document/policy analysis including state legislation and program manuals.

Subject Area

African Americans|Academic guidance counseling|Welfare

Recommended Citation

Silver, Lauren Justine, "Navigating child welfare: Adolescent mothers and the politics of regulation" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3271815.