Unstable housing is a common risk factor for child welfare involvement. Evidence shows that supportive housing programs can help keep families intact, but resources for those programs are limited. How might child welfare administrators most effectively use those resources and deliver supportive housing programs to serve children and families?
In this report, we seek to better understand targeting of supportive housing and ask, “Which children and families are most at risk of poor outcomes and most likely to benefit from supportive housing?”
Why This Matters
Housing provides critical stability for families that can positively impact a child’s health, development, and well-being. Conversely, housing instability can have an adverse impact on families and has been linked to higher rates of child welfare involvement and greater use of out-of-home care.
Supportive housing can improve child welfare outcomes for families, but not every study finds a significant impact for every site or group of families. Being thoughtful and deliberate about targeting a supportive housing program can help child welfare agencies allocate limited resources to best serve families experiencing homelessness or unstable housing.
What We Found
We found that children and families least likely to be together in the long term without a supportive housing intervention were often the children and families who were most likely to benefit from supportive housing. However, the specific risk factors varied by whether the children were at home or in out-of-home care at baseline:
- For children out of home, those risk factors were
- their family being homeless (not unstably housed) at randomization;
- their caregiver having a substance use issue;
- their caregiver having experienced abuse or neglect as a child; or
- experiencing a longer time removed from home.
- For children at home, the risk factors were
- having a caregiver who had a history with the criminal legal system;
- having a caregiver who had experienced abuse or neglect as a child; or
- living in a larger family.
Who is at risk and who may benefit can vary depending on context, but child welfare administrators can target children and families most at risk knowing that supportive housing will likely benefit them the same or more than their peers. In addition to increasing the likelihood of keeping families intact, supportive housing can also reduce children’s time in child welfare–funded living situations, which can have positive fiscal implications.
Targeting a program to children and families most at risk provides the opportunity to efficiently use program resources, improve child and family outcomes, and reduce system costs. The findings in this report can provide guidance, but child welfare administrators should consider their local context and practices and examine who may be most at risk in their jurisdiction.
How We Did It
In this report, we build on a recent Urban Institute study looking at the impact of supportive housing on families involved in the child welfare system (Chambers, Packard Tucker, and Pergamit 2023). The study found significant, long-term impacts for families and showed children were more likely to be in the home five years later if their family received supportive housing.
We examined which families were most at risk and which of those families would most benefit from a supportive housing intervention. We hypothesized that the optimal service population included families who were both likely to experience poor child welfare outcomes and were also likely to benefit if given the chance to participate in supportive housing.
- To understand risk factors for poor outcomes, we examined children whose families were not offered supportive housing (i.e., the control group), and we observed whether anything about these children or their families made them less likely to be home five years after randomization into the study.
- Being more at risk for an adverse outcome does not mean that the intervention will improve that outcome. To understand who benefited from supportive housing, we examined the impact of treatment on children we identified as most at risk and how treatment may have interacted with the risk factors of interest.