Supportive Housing Can Help Keep Families Together

By Rafael López, Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families and Deborah De Santis, CEO and President, Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH)

Separating children from their families and placing them in foster care can have devastating, long-term consequences. This is sometimes preventable, especially when the separation is related to the parents lacking stable, affordable housing. Innovative housing opportunities like supportive housing--combining affordable rent and support services--can help vulnerable families grow stronger together in safe, stable homes of their own.

In 2012, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) facilitated a $35 million five-year public-private partnership, which included the Corporation for Supportive Housing, to examine the impact of family-based supportive housing in reducing foster care placement.

The project consists of five sites across the country: Broward County, Florida; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Memphis, Tennessee; San Francisco, California; and the state of Connecticut.

This is the first federal investment focused specifically on reducing child welfare system involvement by supporting the whole family with affordable rental housing and tailored services. It reflects our belief that supportive housing holds tremendous potential for ending the intergenerational cycle of homelessness, child neglect, and removal. It also shows the power of cross-sector partnerships--nonprofits, housing and child welfare organizations, and all levels of government are working together to solve problems and create change for the families we serve.

Today, we're starting to see that supportive housing is making a real difference. The five sites have successfully housed over 300 families, and over 90% of them are staying housed. We are also hearing that these families are more likely to stay together and avoid foster care.

Promising Practices

Through our work, we are seeing that some strategies work especially well to coordinate and serve families with complex needs.

Using data to target families most in need: Limited data exists regarding the links between family homelessness and involvement with the child welfare system. The sites have been proactive in creating and using data from different public agencies to develop a profile of those most in need of supportive housing. San Francisco and Connecticut have started screening practices that collect information on the housing needs of all families involved with the child welfare system.
Establishing multi-agency teams to coordinate services: Vulnerable families need access to a lot of different services, and it can be difficult to get them all to work together. The sites are coordinating with many different partners--including landlords, behavioral health counselors, and the families' own support network--to help keep children and parents safe.
Creating stronger partnerships between housing and child welfare: Partnerships between state and local housing agencies and local child welfare organizations have been critical to our progress so far. In Memphis, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Continuum of Care has prioritized units for families with a disability that are experiencing homelessness and child welfare issues.
Using a Housing First approach: Housing First connects families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing quickly and successfully, without any preconditions or barriers. Supportive housing embraces this idea and offers additional services to help prevent returns to homelessness.

It is encouraging that more family-focused organizations, especially child welfare agencies, are beginning to understand how important affordable housing is to stabilizing and keeping our families strong and together. By working together with supportive housing, they can provide the services families in crisis need, and create safer community environments so that children and families can grow stronger and stay together.