The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, and four private foundations today named local partners for a new $35 million initiative to stabilize fragile families and keep children out of foster care. Broward County (FL), Cedar Rapids (IA), Memphis (TN), San Francisco (CA), and the State of Connecticut will be testing a new model for preventing foster care placements by placing highly fragile families in supportive housing that coordinates needed social and health services within the home setting.
This initiative reflects the growing recognition that placing children in foster care is too often detrimental to their health and well-being and that more should be done to help families stay together. A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology concluded that homelessness, rather than parental substance abuse or mental illness, is the strongest predictor that children will be removed from their families.
“As more states move toward serving families safely outside of foster care, it has become more apparent that families face multiple challenges,” said Commissioner Bryan Samuels of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. “This initiative is designed to help us identify high-need families earlier and to provide the right set of targeted services that lead to meaningful family improvements.”
Improvements include reducing child abuse and neglect, reducing the number of foster care placements, and increasing housing and employment stability, Samuels added.
This initiative is the product of a novel partnership between the federal government and four private foundations: the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Casey Family Programs, and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. It is based on an innovative and successful pilot effort in New York City — known as Keeping Families Together — that paired supportive housing with on-site case management and a comprehensive array of services for families experiencing chronic homelessness, substance abuse and mental health problems, and child welfare involvement.
An evaluation found that the vast majority of families served by Keeping Families Together still had stable housing three years later. During the same study period, more than half of all open child welfare cases among the families were closed, all children in foster care were reunited with their families, and overall reports of maltreatment dropped substantially (by 87 percent). Participating families also saw additional benefits, including an increase in school attendance among children.
“We know that supportive housing can make a critical difference in helping struggling families stay together and get the services they need,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We need more such innovations in social welfare to solve complex problems like homelessness and foster care involvement.”
Each of the local partners will receive $5 million over five years, as well as technical assistance, to adapt this approach in their community. Their programs also will be formally evaluated to measure the initiative’s impact on housing stability, health and social and emotional outcomes among children and caregivers, and need for involvement with the child welfare system.
“We know from experience that reaching out to families with an integrated and comprehensive array of services, including stable housing, is one of the most effective approaches to keep children safe from abuse and neglect,” said William C. Bell, PhD, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs. “We have every reason to believe that the programs this initiative supports will improve outcomes for children and families in those communities, reduce the need for foster care, and produce cost savings. These programs will also help further our knowledge and understanding of how to build communities of hope for all vulnerable children in America.”
The following is a summary of each of those partners and the local needs they are hoping to address:
Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Four Oaks Family and Children’s Services)
Iowa has one of the highest rates of out-of-home placements in the country, nearly double the national rate. More than 500 families (or one in seven) families in the child welfare system face housing as a key barrier to child safety and stability.
The Partners United for Supportive Housing in Cedar Rapids (PUSH-CR) is a collaboration of nonprofits, the local Department of Human Services, a supportive housing provider, a community family homeless and domestic violence shelter, a youth shelter, the National Center on Family Homelessness, and the University of Iowa School of Social Work. This grant will support Iowa’s first supportive housing project designed specifically for families who are already involved in, or at risk of being involved with, the child welfare system due to housing instability and other factors, such as mental health or substance abuse issues. The grant will be administered by Four Oaks Family and Children’s Services.
Connecticut (Connecticut Department of Children and Families)
In 2010, the vast majority (92 percent) of the nearly 7,000 children who entered the Connecticut child welfare system came to the attention of state authorities due to neglect, with housing conditions as a major contributor.
The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) will partner with other agencies and service providers to deliver access to stable housing and a case management team, as well as access to proven interventions. The project will target families within the child welfare system with severe housing issues and high service needs. It will begin in DCF Region 3 (including Middletown, Norwich, and Willimantic) and expand statewide over the five-year demonstration period, during which time DCF will study the effectiveness of this integrated, collaborative, cross-system intervention model.
Broward County, Florida (Kids in Distress, Inc. – Wilton Manors)
This intervention is designed to help low-income Broward County families who are at imminent risk of having their children removed due to homelessness or threat of homelessness, and reunified families for whom the lack of adequate housing remains an obstacle.
A collaborative of more than 20 community partners — known as HEART — will provide integrated subsidized housing and supportive services to advance family stability and reduce child welfare contacts, child maltreatment, child removals, and foster care placements while promoting healthy parenting, family emotional coping, family employment, financial management, and housing stability. All six Broward County public housing authorities have committed to ensuring that housing subsidies and units will be available for this project. The grant will be administered by Kids in Distress, Inc. – Wilton Manors.
Memphis, Tennessee (Community Alliance for the Homeless)
Memphis has the highest number of children in foster care in all of Tennessee, and locally, more than one out of every five substantiated maltreatment cases cites housing as the primary concern. And, one out of every four children who receive emergency housing assistance are at high or very high risk of child maltreatment. Since 2009, the Central Intake for Homeless Families has routinely identified hundreds of these families but had limited, and often no, resources to address these maltreatment concerns.
The Memphis Strong Families Initiative will establish a single point of entry for low-income, homeless families in need of permanent housing and crisis intervention. Families will be assessed to identify issues related to lack of adequate housing that would likely lead to family separation and the need for multiple high-level service needs. Evidence-based, trauma-informed services will be provided with the ultimate goal of reducing the rate of family separation and child maltreatment, while promoting housing retention and child well-being. The grant will be administered by the Community Alliance for the Homeless.
San Francisco, California (San Francisco Human Services Agency)
Sixteen percent of all active child welfare cases in San Francisco between 2010 and 2011 involved a parent who, at some point during the case, was homeless. A data match for one night of shelter residents found that 11 percent of children there had an open child welfare case within the last two years, and 18 percent had been the subject of a child maltreatment referral.
The goal of the San Francisco Human Services Agency’s Rapid Support and Housing for Families project is to hasten and improve cross-system collaboration to meet the housing and service needs of families at risk for child removal. The approach in this demonstration project will include establishing multi-disciplinary service teams to help families not just maintain their housing, but also improve overall functioning and well-being; ensuring access to an array of health, behavioral health, employment, parenting, and other services; and expanding trauma-informed mental health services for both children and families.
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.
About the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States. It was established in 1948 by Jim Casey, one of the founders of UPS, and his siblings, who named the Foundation in honor of their mother. The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation makes grants that help states, cities, and communities fashion more innovative, cost-effective response to these needs. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.
About Casey Family Programs
Casey Family Programs is the nation’s largest operating foundation whose work is focused on safely reducing the need for foster care and building communities of hope for all of America’s children and families. Casey Family Programs works in partnership with child welfare systems, families and communities across the nation to prevent child abuse and neglect and to find safe, permanent and loving families for all children. We believe every child deserves a family of their own and a community of hope. For more information, visit www.casey.org.
About the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation
The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) seeks to transform the life prospects of America’s most vulnerable young people and help them become independent, productive adults. To accomplish this, EMCF makes large, long-term investments, frequently in partnership with other funders, in nonprofits with a commitment to growth and compelling evidence that their programs help economically disadvantaged youth, ages 9-24, get an education, find and keep employment, or avoid pregnancy and crime. Through these investments, EMCF seeks to expand the pool and impact of organizations that can make a real and enduring difference in the lives of greater numbers of young people at the greatest risk of failing to reach positive adulthood. Visit www.emcf.org.