Housing & Child Welfare

New ImageIdentifying families living in unstable or substandard living conditions, assessing their housing needs, and providing appropriate interventions at the front end of the child welfare system, when families are first determined to be at risk – is a viable form of prevention. Housing affects families at each decision point in the child welfare continuum.

Children from families with housing problems are: more likely to be investigated by Child Protective Services (Culhane et al, 2004); more likely to be placed in out-of-home care (Courtney et al, 2004); longer stayers in foster care (Jones, 1998); and thirty percent of children in foster care are there because of housing problems (Doerre & Mihaly, 1996; Hagedorn, 1995; Thoma, 1998).


A 2007 GAO report on the African American Children in foster care identified housing as a major contributor to the over-representation of minorities in foster care. A 2004 service matching in child welfare study found that housing was the least well-matched service and alarmingly, when it was matched to need, race was the best predictor of whether or not a family would get the service – this may indicate an interaction effect between race and housing on the independent variable of foster care placement.

How can Child Welfare address housing instability of vulnerable families?


♦  Acknowledge the difficulty that the lack of housing tools poses to frontline child welfare staff.

♦  Consider the advantage that child welfare workers have over homeless shelter workers in preventing family and youth homelessness.

♦  Train child welfare workers on housing issues and resources.

 ♦  Partner with housing organizations to provide housing tools to child welfare workers.

 ♦  Participate in conversations governing the distribution of community housing resources.

If the family doesn’t know where they will live or is at risk of losing their housing, they cannot focus on mental health issues. Basic needs must be met before secondary needs can be; this is rule number one for survival. All too often, housing problems limit our ability to accomplish goals and objectives since the family fluctuates in and out of crisis mode when housing is in jeopardy.

From a family therapist working with child welfare families