In several communities across the country, supportive housing is producing better outcomes for families, preventing child removals, promoting timely reunifications, and helping to keep children safe. That’s the message delivered to U.S. Senate staff by CSH, Casey Family Programs, child welfare agencies, and supportive housing residents during a recent bipartisan Congressional briefing sponsored by U.S. Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).
As part of ongoing efforts to create more options for families struggling through multiple challenges, including housing, health and income instability, the briefing was designed to educate policymakers on how supportive housing is keeping families together in an environment that stresses solutions rather than separation.
Recognizing that removing children from their parents is usually the least desirable course of action, federal dollars from the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) have been funding grants to encourage local implementation of supportive housing that integrates affordable housing with tenancy supports and other critical services for vulnerable families, including customized case management services for children and their parents and trauma-informed interventions. By serving vulnerable families in ways that emphasize stability and recovery, supportive housing is directly addressing factors that can lead to child maltreatment, child removals and foster care placements.
Modeling supportive housing as an intervention to help families involved with child-welfare agencies began with the Keeping Families Together (KFT) initiative, overseen by CSH and supported through investment by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The findings from KFT were encouraging and spurred the federal government and philanthropic organizations, including RWJF, Casey Family Programs and the Annie E, Casey and Edna McConnell Clark Foundations, to support a national project exploring Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System.
Highlights from the Briefing
- Deb Lancaster, Director of Strategic Development at the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and a panelist, pointed out that caseworkers and others in the child welfare system are often frustrated by dynamics that can foster antagonistic relationships with families, including when mandated services are not taken advantage of or are seen as counterproductive by families. She observed supportive housing caseworkers are able to overcome these potential obstacles because they tailor the services to the family’s needs and become advocates for the entire family, not just the children.
- Christine Calpin, Managing Director of Public Policy for Casey Family Programs and also a panelist, described the link between housing issues and foster care placements. She provided data that suggest at least 9% of youth come into care due to inadequate housing, although raised that many believe the data does not reflect the true need. She also discussed the current limitations in federal child welfare funding which is only available after the child is removed from the home and pointed out that there is broad interest in the states to align federal funding to allow states to serve families with upfront prevention services such as supportive housing to achieve better outcomes for children and families.
- Ronald Johnson and his daughter, Felicia, shared their lived experiences as family members who reunified, stayed together and thrived in supportive housing. Felicia was placed into foster care at birth because of outstanding child welfare cases involving her mother’s other children. As s single dad, Mr. Johnson fought hard to maintain employment, even while living in shelters, so he and Felicia could one day reunify in a home of their own. While initially skeptical of KFT, he and Felicia were able to gain the stable, affordable housing and services they needed to live together as a family. Now 18, Felicia described herself as a “nerd who loves school” and shared her goal of becoming a physical therapist.
- Panelists and participants discussed U.S. Senator Tim Kaine’s work on S.2289, a bill to modernize Family Unification Program vouchers for child welfare involved families, and direct reforms to the child welfare system proposed in the Family First Act sponsored by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Orrin Hatch.
CSH President & CEO Deb De Santis closed by reminding participants why Congressional interest, attention and action are so important: “There is a window of opportunity to change the life trajectory for vulnerable children. We can support resiliency among child welfare-involved children and help them chart the course for a brighter future. By providing safe, affordable housing linked to services that address the needs of parents and their children, vulnerable families can stay together and thrive.”