Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System

Many families involved in the child welfare system face deep and persistent poverty, depression and mental illness, domestic violence, and drug addiction. Homelessness and unstable housing—which increase financial, mental, and physical stressors on children and parents—often amplify these intense needs. Families sleeping in cars, garages, homeless shelters, or doubled up in untenable situations often wind up “in the system” and at risk of separation.

These families often bounce from one social service agency to another, imposing substantial costs to communities while their needs remain unmet. Children separated from their families and placed in foster care often grow up to lead troubled lives.

One promising approach to interrupting this cycle is supportive housing, an intervention that combines affordable housing with intensive wraparound services and that has been successful with hard-to-serve populations. Supportive housing uses a housing-first model that provides housing as quickly as possible without requiring sobriety or an agreement to participate in services. The supportive services for long-term housing stability, recovery from addiction, education, and employment are voluntary and are provided after housing is stabilized. Stable housing allows families to concentrate on participating in services rather than worrying about where they will spend the night.

Promising evidence from a supportive housing pilot program in New York City led the Administration for Children and Families’ Children’s Bureau to fund a five-site supportive housing demonstration called “Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System.”

The Urban Institute is part of a collaborative effort to evaluate this demonstration. We examine how supportive housing affects housing stability, child welfare involvement, and child, parent, and family well-being.


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Principal investigators: Mary Cunningham and Michael Pergamit

Project director: Sarah Gillespie

Research team: Rebecca Daniels, Amanda Gold, Devlin Hanson, Josh Leopold, Marla McDaniel, Molly Michie, Leslie Mullins, Lily Posey


This research is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and Casey Family Programs.