How Do Homeless Families in the Child Welfare System Make Housing Decisions?

How Do Homeless Families in the Child Welfare System Make Housing Decisions?
Anne K. Rufa, Patrick J. Fowler
Housing Policy Debate
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Homelessness and unstable, unsafe housing conditions are significant roadblocks for families in the child welfare system. Housing services provided within the child welfare system are gaining more attention, and supportive housing services are becoming more prevalent. Some research on preliminary outcomes of such programs suggests potential to save costs and have positive results for families, but programs and research are limited. This study analyzed results from a randomized controlled trial that compared 75 homeless families who received Family Unification Program services and case management with 75 homeless families who received child welfare services as usual in Chicago. A qualitative study was embedded within the randomized controlled trial with 19 randomly selected caregivers, conducted over a year. Their findings point to the need for the child welfare system to be informed of and sensitive to the challenges inadequately housed families face.

Key findings

  • Few differences exist between caregivers who received vouchers and caregivers who received standard child welfare services on their housing decisionmaking process.
  • Caregivers reported limitations in their housing choices related to two major factors: availability and affordability. Many were forced to make last-minute decisions to accept housing, without much time to consider other factors. Voucher holders also noted that the subsidy was necessary to afford housing, but that with or without housing assistance, it was difficult to afford rent.
  • Child and family safety were perceived as less important than availability and affordability when caregivers were making housing decisions.
  • The authors emphasize the need for housing-informed child welfare services to ensure homeless families’ safety in the long term. They suggest ensuring that families receive caseworker aid and time uniformly, bolstering caseworker training, and aiding in other supportive services in addition to housing, such as help finding employment.

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