Understanding the Relationship Between Housing and Child Welfare System Involvement

Research has shown that homeless or precariously housed families are more likely to be involved with the child welfare system than families with stable housing. This review of literature highlights what we know about the relationship between housing and child welfare involvement, preventative interventions, and the housing needs of child welfare-involved families.

What We Did

This brief is the result of a literature review, summarizing what we know about the relationship between housing and child welfare. We also review measures taken by child welfare agencies to address the housing needs of families and explore potential benefits of housing interventions aimed at reducing child welfare involvement among families experiencing homelessness.

What We Found

Our review of the literature revealed some causes of the relatively high rate of child welfare involvement among homeless and unstably housed families:

  • Health or safety risk to children posed by inadequate housing
  • Physical abuse or neglect induced by the stress of parents experiencing homelessness
  • Mental health and substance abuse problems can be exacerbated by homelessness
  • Increased scrutiny of parents living in shelters

It also found that three types of housing interventions are being used to address the housing needs of families with or at risk of child welfare involvement:

  1. Rapid Rehousing quickly moves families into private market housing by providing temporary housing search and stabilization services
  2. Transitional Housing combines short-term housing and supportive services for families with significant barriers to housing stability
  3. Supportive Housing provides a permanent housing subsidy together with case management and other services to address mental health or substance abuse problems

What It Means

By working together, child welfare and housing agencies can develop tools to detect both families at-risk of child welfare system involvement and those in need of housing assistance. Addressing family housing needs can eliminate health and safety risks to children, reducing the need for out-of-home placement.

Future research should focus on:

  • Comparing the rates of child welfare system involvement among families experiencing different forms of homelessness: sheltered, unsheltered, and living doubled up
  • Long-term studies evaluating the child welfare system involvement once homeless families become housed
  • Determining what constitutes best practice in regard to reducing child welfare system involvement among homeless and unstably housed families
Recommended Citation
Dworsky, A. (2014). Families at the Nexus of Housing and Child Welfare Washington, D.C.: First Focus. Retrieved from: https://firstfocus.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Families-at-the-Nexus-of-Housing-and-Child-Welfare.pdf
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