The Supportive Housing for Families Program, Connecticut

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Best Practice | August 11, 2006

The Supportive Housing for Families Program preserves and unifies families and prevents family homelessness by providing permanent affordable housing with services to families involved with the Connecticut child welfare system. There is often an intersection between child welfare and homelessness, and a large percentage of children in foster care are there because their parents are homeless or unstably housed. The Supportive Housing for Families Program recognizes and addresses this intersection by combining the resources and expertise of two state agencies and a non-profit partner. The result is better housing and child welfare outcomes for families--as well as cost-savings to the state.

History and Background

During the late 1990s, several factors and findings prompted Connecticut to closely consider the intersection of housing and child welfare. Research by the state's Alcohol and Drug Policy Council, housing research by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF), a comprehensive DCF needs assessment and the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act all called attention to the importance of housing in preserving and reunifying families. In particular, research and practice found that parents who were in treatment for substance abuse needed housing when they returned--without stable, affordable housing, parents found it very difficult to remain sober and reunite with their families. In short, research and programmatic experience kept coming to the same conclusion: housing was an important child welfare issue; and stable, affordable housing was crucial to the well-being of families.

At the same time, the state realized that addressing child welfare by housing entire families, rather than removing children and placing them in foster care, could not only benefit the families; it would be cost-effective. The cost of foster care far exceeds the cost of a housing subsidy for most families; therefore, a program that directly addressed housing needs could save the state money.

As a result, state officials decided to provide scattered site housing and intensive services to families involved with the Connecticut child welfare system. In 1998 the Department of Children and Families contracted with The Connection Inc. and the Connecticut Department of Social Services to create the Supportive Housing for Families program.

Program Overview

The Supportive Housing for Families Program provides permanent affordable housing coupled with supportive services to families involved with the Connecticut child welfare system. The program centers on a commitment to improving child welfare by preserving families at risk of separation, reunifying families who have been separated, preserving and renewing parent-child relationships, and preventing family homelessness. Its key components are permanent housing and home-based intensive case management (ICM) aimed to help families avoid the potentially devastating effects of separation through foster placement and stay stably housed.

Housing

Placement in permanent housing is preceded by careful housing search assistance. Housing coordinators serve as a liaison between housing authorities, landlords, clients, and case managers. They work to build strong relationships with landlords and housing authorities in order to create better housing options for clients. Housing coordinators help families identify high quality apartments in safe neighborhoods. They also help the families overcome any barriers to housing such as outstanding debt. Once an apartment is acquired, the agency uses the Family Unification Program (FUP) or Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers to subsidize housing costs.

Services

Intensive Case Management, or ICM, is the keystone of services for the family. Case managers perform weekly home visits, working with the family to create a family care plan and becoming the single point of accountability for coordination of all appropriate services as identified by the plan. Services can include substance abuse treatment, parenting training, child care, transportation and educational and vocational training. Case managers are committed to building a relationship with the family and becoming a consistent and reliable presence in the family's life. An important element is that all case management is home-based, and case managers come to the families where they live. The program strives to provide seamless support for families to meet their self-identified needs. The case management aspect of the program lasts for approximately 12-18 months--and up to 2 years--depending on the needs of the family.

Cross-System Collaboration

What is unique about this program and what is crucial to its success is the cross-collaboration between different state agencies and a non-profit partner. The Supportive Housing for Families Program is a partnership between the State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families, the State of Connecticut Department of Social Services and The Connection, Inc, a non-profit human service and community development agency. The two state agencies provide funding--the Department of Children and Families funds services and the Department of Social Services funds housing--while The Connection Inc. operates the program. Case management services are provided statewide by The Connection, Inc. and nine additional community based, non-profit agencies. This collaboration provides seamless and comprehensive support for families enabling them to stay unified and access services in their own permanent housing.

Target Population and Referral Process

Families who have an active case with the Department of Children and Families, are homeless or at risk of homelessness and are in compliance with their family reunification or preservation plan are eligible for the program. In addition, they must meet the eligibility requirements for Section 8 vouchers in order to receive housing assistance. Originally, the program worked specifically with families whose parents had substance abuse issues; now, the program has expanded to work with any family involved with DCF. Families are referred by a Connecticut Department of Children and Families social worker.

Funding Source

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families funds program services through the general fund of the State of Connecticut. This funding pays for case management services, as well as costs associated with stabilizing the family such as some rental assistance, helping to restore good credit history, etc. Housing is paid for by Family Unification Program (FUP) and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. These vouchers come from HUD through the Connecticut Department of Social Services. It is possible for tenants who have secured their own vouchers from local housing authorities to participate in and receive services through the program, but this is less common.

It is important to note that the program is very cost-effective. Regular foster care costs the state between $8,250 and $9,275 per child per year, depending on age--this is the least costly placement; specialized or therapeutic care is more costly, as is any social worker or agency involvement. In contrast, the Supportive Housing for Families Program costs $9,000 per family per year for services plus the housing voucher, which is approximately $7,000. Because most families have 2 to 3 children and require extensive support services, this represents a significant cost savings.

Available Data

Since the program began 6 years ago, 455 families have been housed and over 1130 children reunified or preserved with their families.

Seventy-three percent of families go from the point of housing to completion of the program, meaning they have met the identified goals listed in their case plan and have had their DCF case closed. Some of the remaining families may still be under the supervision of DCF. A longer term study of outcomes of the program is currently planned.

For more information contact:

Elizabeth Cronin
The Connection Inc.
48 Howe Street
New Haven, CT 06511

phone: (203) 789-4427
bcronin@theconnectioninc.org