Implementing the Family Unification Program

Implementing the Family Unification Program
Mary Cunningham, Michael Pergamit, Abigail Baum, Jessica Luna
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The Family Unification Program (FUP) is a specialized housing voucher program targeted to families involved in the child welfare system. The program's goal is to prevent or shorten children's involvement in out-of-home care due to inadequate housing and to prevent housing instability for youth aging out of foster care. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided FUP funds to more than 300 communities across the United States since 1992. The program rules allow flexibility in local implementation.

In the first of two reports on the program, researchers at the Urban Institute use interviews and site visits to assess the program's design and implementation in eight sites: Portland, OR; San Diego, CA; Chicago, IL; Hartford, CT; Massachusetts (statewide); Seattle, WA; Salt Lake County, UT; and Salem, OR. Case studies of each site are included in the report.

Major findings:

  • While FUP universally engages a partnership between the housing authority and child welfare agency, substantial variation exists in the implementation of FUP across sites.
  • Promising practices for improving child welfare system outcomes include: loosening traditional tenant screening criteria, offering housing search assistance, providing financial support for security deposits or other upfront costs, and connecting families with longer-term and more intensive supportive services.
  • HUD does not fund case management to accompany FUP vouchers, so housing authorities rely on partner organizations, often the child welfare agency, for case management and supportive services.
  • For supportive services, Seattle, Portland, and Hartford have partnerships with community-based providers, which may be a better fit than engaging child welfare agencies after a family is stably housed.
  • The intensity and duration of supportive services varies from two or more years of regular support in Hartford and Portland to case management relationships that last three to six months in San Diego, Salt Lake, Chicago, Salem, and Massachusetts.
  • Caseworker discretion plays a substantial role in determining who gets a voucher. Many use the voucher as an incentive to complete other steps toward reunification, while fewer refer higher-need families to the program.
  • Housing search assistance ranges from providing families with a list of landlords or properties known to accept vouchers to more intensive supports, such as individualized assistance, coaching on landlord communications, and financial assistance to cover security deposits.
  • FUP faces numerous challenges to success, including difficulty aligning the timing of voucher availability with the immediate housing needs identified by families' child welfare case workers.