Homelessness and Child Welfare


National Alliance to End Homelessness

Fact Sheets | August 10, 2006

Files: PDF | 100 KB | 2 pages


Research on Homelessness and Child Welfare
Updated July 8, 2004

  • A large proportion of children in foster care have a parent that is homeless or unstably housed. A GAO study found that 30 percent of children in foster care system have a homeless or unstably housed parent. A survey of 195 children in foster care found that half of the children’s birth parents had a history of homelessness.
  • According to a study in Toronto, caseworkers reported that in 20 percent of child welfare cases reviewed, the families’ lack of appropriate housing influenced the decision to remove a child from a family or led to a delay in the return of a child to a family. Moreover, social workers estimated that the delay in returning children to their families because of poor housing was six months, representing a cost burden of $2.9 million.
  • According to a recent study, which examined the factors that facilitate or impede reunification of children who were placed in foster care, the reunification rates were nearly 50 percent lower for families who experienced a homeless episode in the 12 months before the child was placed into care.
  • In one large city, children born to women who experienced homelessness were four times more likely to be involved with the child welfare agency before age five than children born to other low income women. Such involvement entailed actively monitoring of the child’s well-being by the child welfare agency due to reports of abuse or neglect. Among children who were monitored by the child welfare agency, those whose mothers experienced homelessness were more likely to be placed in foster care than children born to other low income women. The rate of child welfare involvement resulting in a foster care placement for low-income mothers was 39 percent. For child-welfare-involved families in which the mother experienced homelessness, the rate was 62 percent.
  • One study that examined outcomes of families five years after they experienced a homeless episode found that 44 percent of the women surveyed had a child in an out-of-home placement. Most out-of-home placements occurred before or during the homeless episode (60 percent). However, 40 percent of the families were separated following the homeless episode. The study further found that a homeless episode was a stronger predictor of an out-of-home placement than a parent’s depression, use of drugs or alcohol, domestic violence or an institutional placement.
  • Nationally, the average annual cost of placing the children of a homeless family in foster care is $47,608, while the average annual cost for a permanent housing subsidy and supportive services for a family of equal size is about $9,000. Without access to a housing subsidy, some families remain homeless for a longer period of time. Ironically, the cost of a voucher that would prevent homelessness or reduce the length of time families remain homeless is often less than the cost of providing shelter assistance.