In order to effectively serve families in supportive housing who are involved in or at-risk of child welfare involvement, housing providers and social service entities will need to learn more about their local child welfare system—how it works and what being involved in the child welfare system means for families. At the same time, child welfare partners will want to learn more about supportive housing and what housing resources exist in their community.
The child welfare system has complicated policies and procedures. These policies typically vary from state to state and sometimes county by county. The Administration for Children & Families sponsors the Child Welfare Information Gateway, www.childwelfare.gov, and provides comprehensive information and materials on child welfare.
The housing and homeless systems are different but related entities. These systems also vary widely depending on the community. To learn more about supportive housing, please visit www.csh.org. To identify housing resources in your community, please see the Identifying Local Housing Resources section of this guide.
The child welfare system has an overwhelming mandate to ensure the safety and well-being of children. This typically makes it very vulnerable to scrutiny. The agency is typically stretched thin and it may take time for the system to fully understand and embrace the benefits of supportive housing. However, supportive housing has the potential to lighten caseloads and reduce the number of children in foster care. Use these shared goals and mutual interests to build effective partnerships.
Please see below tips to build effective housing and child welfare collaboration.
Ask about needs
Housing and child welfare work with a very similar set of people but approach them in different ways. Working in partnership through supportive housing allows each system to see families in a holistic way—not just as a set of problems related to their particular expertise. Supportive housing is part of the solution to both homelessness and child neglect, so start conversations with this in mind. Determine how Keeping Families Together or supportive housing can solve each systems most stubborn challenge. Which families are of most concern to each system? How can supportive housing for child welfare-involved families meet the needs of those families?
Learn the basics
Housing and child welfare professionals may not use the same words to describe the same things. When establishing a local collaboration, bring housing and child welfare partners together and give them the opportunity to teach each other the basics. What does it mean to have an “open” case? What is a rental subsidy? What is the role of a case manager?
Accommodate Resource Challenges
Child welfare systems are under extreme pressure from growing caseloads, decreasing funding and ongoing public scrutiny. They typically do not have the staff to free up for a new project, so develop work plans with this in mind. Be sure to be clear about who’s responsible for what.
Participate in Child Welfare-led Case Conferences and Family Team Meetings
If you are already serving child welfare-involved families in supportive housing, be a resource and support for your tenants by participating in these meetings. Families can often choose to have friends, relatives or other support people with them when they meet with child welfare. Supporting your families will bolster your relationship with the family and demonstrate to the child welfare case worker that there are supportive professionals available to help struggling families.
There is a growing amount of research available that demonstrates that supportive housing can improve family functioning and decrease child welfare involvement. Some program evaluations (like Keeping Families Together) include cost studies that show impressive savings for the child welfare system. Positive outcomes and cost-savings are usually a very powerful combination for any public system administrator.
Get a Little Help from your Friends
Partnerships to Demonstration the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families Involved in the Child Welfare System, has created a new cadre of supportive housing providers who are collaborating with child welfare to identify, house and serve the highest-need families. Contact these providers (find out who they are and how to reach them at www.csh.org), and talk to them about what’s working and ask them if their child welfare partner would be willing to speak to your local child welfare director. Hearing real stories from peers will likely encourage a child welfare administrator to at least agree to another meeting!
Supportive housing is reliant on strong partnerships from its development, through operations and services tailored to families’ needs. For more information about the variety of partnership necessary for successful supportive housing, see
CSH’s publication Not a Solo Act.