The services model for child welfare-involved families will be more comprehensive, with a greater focus on child well-being compared with typical family supportive housing. The services should address the trauma experienced by both parents and children, and attuned to effectuate child welfare-specific outcomes.
CSH recommends child welfare-focused supportive housing programs incorporate the following set of principles in order to achieve the desired programmatic outcomes of: increasing child safety and well-being, preserving intact families, and building the capacity of caregivers to support their children and create stable homes. Furthermore, consistency is essential to ensuring that outcomes can be measured and program evaluation results are reliable.
Housing stability is a precursor to the preservation, stability and well-being of families and children.
A lack of stable housing negatively impacts child safety and well-being, and also contributes to the inability of families to engage and benefit from a system or network of care. Frequent moves or homelessness affect children’s ability to attend and perform well in schools as well as obtain a feeling of security and stability. Moreover, homelessness and housing crises exacerbate health conditions for caregivers and children, while also preventing participation in services that can help address symptoms of trauma and other mental health and substance use conditions. On the other hand, safe, stable, and affordable housing can serve as a platform for engaging families into care, not to mention having protective benefit in and of itself. Therefore, a core principle underlying the programs to be supported through this opportunity is that the services must be linked to safe and affordable housing. Services must maximize families’ tenure in housing, such as assistance in managing household finances, performing activities of daily living, upholding lease terms, mitigating crisis situations, maximizing tenant safety and security, building community among families, and preventing avoidable evictions. In addition, services will be provided within and near families’ homes, including regular (agreed-upon) visits to the family’s home.
Trusting relationships promote positive change and growth in families
A core assumption of these programs is that a small subset of parents requires longer-term supports to build their capacity to provide adequate levels of care for their children. Supportive housing, unlike more traditional services offered by the child welfare system, is not a time-limited intervention but a long-term investment in families. Program staff needs to encourage open communication and cultivate trust and relationships with families. Services providers must be seen by families as a source of support and assistance both for routine services as well as in moments of crisis. Such relationships are critical in order to both develop a deeper understanding of the complex service needs that contribute to neglect, as well as to anticipate and readily respond in situations of crisis. Every interaction with families should be seen as an opportunity to engage families and strengthen the alliance with them. Program staff should have training and competence around non-judgmental communication and engagement skills that can help to cultivate strong alliances and relationships with families. Furthermore, effective supervision can help to reinforce skills and practices that promote relationship-building, and can also guard against judgmental attitudes and communication patterns that decrease families’ trust and engagement with service providers.
Housing case management staff can promote recovery and family stability while improving the capacity of caregivers to provide a safe and permanent home for their children by performing the following roles:
- Ensure housing retention and improve housing stability among families as a platform for ongoing engagement and family stability.
- Work with families to devise and implement a comprehensive, family-based program that focuses on child safety, positive family functioning and wellness.
- Build a network of support within the program and among tenants that focuses on trust, well-being and social/community integration.
- Advocate on behalf of parents and children to ensure that they understand the requirements of the social services in which they are engaged. Facilitate access to public benefits available to them. Staff should act as a liaison between parent and service provider when necessary while building the capacity of the caregiver and child to communicate effectively and advocate for them.
Services staff must be viewed “system-neutral” advocates for families
To build trust and relationships with families, effective services approaches must also be “system-neutral” with respect to the child welfare system. If service staff is viewed by families as an extension of the child welfare system, families may not be willing to share or disclose information that could be essential to effective services delivery. In order to maintain neutral non-threatening relationships with tenants, it is essential that “protective” job functions remain in the child welfare field office. Supportive housing staff will communicate and coordinate with child protective staff as needed, but functions should be separate.
Services are voluntary
To support families’ engagement into services and the perception that these services are a source of support rather than punishment, services should not offered in a coercive manner or through mandates. Instead, assertive and creative engagement practices that make services attractive to families and reinforce a culture of open communication and trust should be emphasized and adopted. Motivational Interviewing and other evidence-based engagement strategies have been found effective in helping families voluntarily engage in services. In addition, peer supports and peer-based services can also be built into the structure of the program.
Team-based approach to staffing produces positive outcomes for families
The safety and stability needs and well-being of vulnerable children and families are complicated, requiring wide ranging information and practice knowledge. One worker practicing alone with a full caseload cannot know and do everything that needs to be done. As such, it is suggested that interdisciplinary teams are developed to work with families. The team is a source for information, understanding, consultation, joint practice, and accountability. Each member of the team should bring a variety of skills, life experiences and perspectives. The team could include a legal advocate and/or peer advocate for the family.
Supportive housing provides an opportunity to build a community of support and safety
Stress and isolation undermine health and parenting. Staff should build a culture of support and interaction among tenants. However, there will be many families who have learned not to trust their neighbors and would rather engage in activities outside the immediate community. Opportunities to connect to other families in the program and in the community should be provided on an-ongoing basis.
Adopt a “Whatever it takes” approach
The strength of the supportive housing model is that it provides unique opportunities to work with and directly witness family circumstances in real-time and on a daily basis. This ability to deliver services “in vivo” contributes to supportive housing’s ability to attend to the wide range of needs experienced by families with complex circumstances. Service programs must be prepared in advance to understand the expectation that their work goes beyond their desk, and typically does not take place within the hours of 9-5. The scope of services may be wide-ranging and should encompass assistance and “troubleshooting” around things viewed as not typically part of social service practice. These forms of assistance and troubleshooting further reinforce families’ perceptions and experiences of services as being a true source of help. With this expectation must come the appropriate resources and support for staff to do the job. Cell phones, laptops and cars/access to transportation are critical tools required for staff to feel as if they can do what sometimes feels impossible.