Addressing the Housing Needs of Child Welfare-Involved Families

written by Sharon McDonald
September 4, 2013

Over the last few months, I have been exploring how child welfare agencies address the housing needs of the families they serve. Solving families’ housing problems is not their primary concern – they are focused on keeping children are safe from abuse and neglect. But it seems clear that homelessness and unstable or inadequate housing complicate child welfare agencies’ ability to preserve and reunite families. Homelessness and poor housing simply makes it harder to achieve positive outcomes for the families and children these agencies serve.  

Research bears this out. Children in foster care whose parents have experienced homelessness over the prior 12 months are far less likely to be reunified with their parents. This is not a small segment of the families they serve. One study found that 29 percent of families receiving services to reunite with children placed in foster care experienced homelessness in the previous 12 months and 42 percent had doubled up with friends or family.

Homeless service organizations can be valuable partners for child welfare agencies. Homeless service providers have developed considerable expertise in addressing the housing needs of at-risk and homeless families, and child welfare agencies can leverage this expertise to benefit families on their own caseload.

Alameda County Social Service Agency, operating under a Title-IV-E waiver that provides flexibility in the use of federal child welfare resources, has partnered with EveryOne Home Alameda to meet the housing needs of families receiving services from the child welfare agency. As an intermediary, EveryOne Home Alameda contracted with two homeless service organizations: Abode Services and Building Futures with Women and Children, to provide housing services to families referred by the child welfare agency to facilitate family reunification or to preserve families at-risk of an out-of-home placement. The two organizations provide housing search and landlord negotiation assistance, case management services designed to promote housing stabilization (including budgeting assistance, credit repair and connections to employment), and financial assistance to help pay rental costs.

The Alliance was proud to feature a presentation (embedded below) from Liz Varela of Building Futures with Women and Children about this relatively new partnership at the most recent National Conference on Ending Homelessness. We are eager to learn about other promising partnerships between child welfare agencies and homeless service organizations to address the housing needs of child welfare-involved homeless families from our local partners. Please contact us to share information about innovative approaches underway in your community.