Housing and Child Welfare: Emerging Evidence and Implications for Scaling up Services

October 23, 2017

Drs. Patrick J. Fowler and Peter Hovmand are co-authors of a publication discussing the effects of inadequate housing on family stability in communities across the United States. 

Inadequate housing and homelessness threaten family stability in low-income communities across the United States. The child welfare system, designed to promote child safety and stability, struggles to meet the needs of homeless families under investigation for child abuse and neglect. Insufficient housing and homelessness are prominent matters within the child welfare system, as they contribute to the increasing amount of families investigated, delays in child welfare case closure, and subsequent risk for youth age in foster care.

Numerous initiatives have attempted to address the link between homelessness and child welfare for decades. However, only recently research has been compiled to determine the best practices for intervention and implementation. Various models provide permanent housing with some support for at-risk families, but there are barriers to wide-scale implementation and evidence-based approaches. This study reviews emerging evidence on housing interventions in the context of scale-up, in order to achieve system-level increases in family stability.

In child welfare, scale-up is understood as the effectiveness of fully implemented interventions in relieving family separations associated with housing instability. It incorporates factors beyond traditional measures of effectiveness such as costs, potential reach, local capacities for implementation, and fit within broader social services. The framework proposed by the authors examines scale-up performance over time, which allows for a better understanding of the everyday dynamics faced by child welfare service providers, program administrators, and policymakers who manage housing instability.

Overall, the authors argue that the child welfare system struggles to meet the needs of inadequately housed families and constrain child welfare outcomes of safety, permanency, and well-being. While there is growing evidence that may provide insight into preventing child maltreatment, there is uncertainty of the effectiveness of some interventions. However, the proposed scale-up framework may prove to be a beneficial instrument in planning and evaluating implementation of developing housing interventions.

Read the full study published on August 17, 2017 in the American Journal of Community Psychology.