Can ‘Housing First’ Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect?

Chapin Hall evaluates impact of supportive housing to families in the child welfare system

Recent estimates find that about 60,000 families in the United States are without a home on any given night. Children growing up in families who cannot sustain safe, secure, and affordable housing are likely to experience threats to their health and development.

The “housing first” model for prevention – in which housing assistance is provided to individuals or families as part of a package of supportive services – has recently gained attention for its success with single adults. In 2012, the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services funded a five-year demonstration project to test the effects of supportive housing for families who were involved or at risk of involvement in the child welfare system or were experiencing homelessness.

In this demonstration, families who were assigned to the intervention received a housing subsidy and wraparound services such as case management, family functioning services, and child well-being services. These services were intended to increase housing and family stability and to strengthen parenting skills and well-being, ultimately leading to improved health and developmental outcomes for children.

The five sites included in this demonstration are: Broward County, Florida; Cedar Rapids, Michigan; Connecticut; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Francisco, California. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago is drawing on its deep expertise in child welfare and homelessness systems to serve as the evaluation partner for the state of Connecticut and the San Francisco sites.

The Connecticut program, Intensive Supportive Housing for Families (ISHF), enrolled 100 participants into two treatment groups; one group received a housing voucher and basic wraparound supports, and the other group received a more intensive set of supports that included a housing voucher, vocational training, and access to evidence-based treatments to promote child and parent well-being, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.

Dr. Anne Farrell, the Director of Research and Researcher Dr. Melissa Kull, along with partners at the University of Connecticut, are conducting the evaluation of ISHF. Farrell brings to this work an expertise in family homelessness and program evaluation, and Kull draws on expertise in family instability and quantitative methodologies.

The San Francisco program, Families Moving Forward (FMF), enrolled 74 participants into a mix of voucher-subsidized housing and project-based housing and had one treatment condition providing intensive case management and a range of evidence-based programs to support child and parent well-being. Policy Fellow Jennifer Miller Haight, an expert in child welfare system improvement, along with partner Bridgette Lery of the San Francisco Human Services Agency, are evaluating FMF.

Chapin Hall is collaborating with the Urban Institute and James Bell Associates to conduct a national evaluation of this Supportive Housing for Families demonstration project. For more information about the project, contact Melissa Kull.