The Role of Child Welfare Agencies

September 11, 2013  |  Publications

Parents working with child welfare agencies on goals such as increasing family stability or reunifying with their children may face a variety of obstacles. One often underestimated obstacle is inadequate housing. While housing can provide a safe, stable foundation for parents trying to struggle through poverty, mental health issues, substance use, trauma and domestic violence, its absence can delay or even derail progress.

Inadequate housing not only complicates families’ efforts, it also has huge cost implications for child welfare systems. Services provided through the child welfare system are expensive, and lack of adequate housing can exacerbate those costs. Take, for example, a mother whose children are in out-of-home care while she completes a residential substance treatment program. If she successfully completes the program and achieves almost all of the goals in her case plan, but cannot find housing, then reunification is delayed. Further, child welfare caseworkers report spending more time providing services to families that are unstably housed, compared to those with housing. Lack of a home – homelessness – may also lead to larger child welfare caseloads. Families with inadequate housing often live in chaotic environments, including doubled-up situations, emergency shelter, or domestic violence situations, putting children at risk. Having a permanent, safe place to live can improve family safety and prevent child welfare agency involvement.

This brief is intended for child welfare agencies that are responding to the housing needs of families involved in the child welfare system. It examines the research that documents the link between inadequate housing and child welfare involvement and highlights some of the innovative practices child welfare agencies have developed to respond to the housing needs of families in their care. Finally, it provides early lessons gleaned from some of these practices.