Blog by Jasmine Hayes, Deputy Director
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH)
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to recognize the importance and raise awareness of our roles —families, communities, service providers, researchers, policy makers and others— in working together to prevent child abuse and neglect and to promote the overall social, physical, and emotional well-being of children and their families.
This year’s theme, Strong and Thriving Families, emphasizes the critical role that strong and nurturing communities play in the lives of families—in all their diverse configurations—and reinforces a multidisciplinary approach to prevention that engages the fields of research, policy, and practice to support strategies that strengthen families and protect children. It also aligns with the intent of Home, Together: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, which recognizes that the causes of homelessness are complex, and the solutions are going to take all of us working together, doing our parts, and strengthening our communities.
Connections Between Child Abuse and Family Homelessness
We know that factors like poverty, unemployment, housing instability and homelessness, as well as individual and family characteristics, increase the risk of abuse and neglect and involvement with the child welfare system:
- Families experiencing homelessness or housing instability interact with the child welfare system at higher rates than low-income families with stable housing.
- Housing instability or lack of housing can be a contributing factor to family separations, including placement of children in out-of-home care, as well as delays in reunification.
- Some studies suggest that repeated shelter entries and longer stays in the shelter system are related to increased involvement with the child welfare system.
- Of the approximately 273,000 children who entered foster care across the country during Fiscal Year 2016, inadequate housing was reported as a circumstance associated with the child’s removal for 10% of these children.
Child Welfare and the Coordinated Community Response to Homelessness
The child welfare system has a strong role to play in the implementation of Home, Together as part of a coordinated community response to ending homelessness especially among families with children, and youth. Looking ahead, USICH and our partners will continue to highlight examples of strong child welfare and housing partnerships that are having an impact on efforts to end homelessness, along with guidance for states and communities to address some of the challenges to effective partnerships, including data sharing, employing Housing First approaches, and addressing the needs of unaccompanied minors experiencing homelessness. This includes learnings from the first round of Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program communities and those participating in the 100-day Challenges , as well as communities implementing services under the Family Unification Program.
Recently published guidance on Building Partnerships to Support Stable Housing for Child Welfare-Involved Families and Youth builds on an earlier Information Memorandum from the Children’s Bureau and outlines how child welfare professionals can collaborate with affordable housing and homelessness services, noting housing’s critical connection to child welfare. The bulletin includes a summary of resources that can support prevention and housing stability supports such as short-term financial assistance and family strengthening programs. It also references the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), passed in February 2018, which offers States the option for increased flexibility under federal child welfare financing streams. While the Children’s Bureau continues to develop and provide information on the FFPSA, a recent policy brief from Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) highlights potential opportunities to more closely align child welfare and housing to address the needs of particularly vulnerable families that communities can act on now to inform development of a state’s strategy under FFPSA.
On a personal note, as someone who began her career as a social worker in the field of child welfare, and now as a parent, I realize more every day that the ability to be strong and thriving as a family is necessarily connected to our physical and social environment. Communities need enough housing that is affordable and equitably available to people across a full range of incomes. Safe and stable housing provides a platform for individuals and families to pursue economic mobility, advance careers, succeed in school, take care of health and behavioral health, build strong families and give back to the community. Ending family homelessness and preventing child abuse and neglect go hand in hand. This month, and throughout the year, we will continue to support and strengthen communities as they work to achieve both of those goals.