Brief How Much Does Supportive Housing Save Child Welfare Systems?
Laura Packard Tucker, Michael Pergamit, Mari Bayer
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For families involved in child welfare, the positive outcomes of supportive housing can increase housing stability and help keep families intact. In this brief, we focused on supportive housing’s potential savings to the child welfare system. We estimated the potential savings created by reducing a family’s time in the child welfare system.

Why This Matters

Supportive housing programs are usually funded through housing agencies, but these programs can yield positive outcomes (and subsequently, savings) across agencies, including the child welfare system. The costs of a supportive housing program can be partially or fully recouped through cost savings to a variety of public agencies.

Given the large share of child welfare budgets devoted to out-of-home placements, adoptions, and guardianships, child welfare agencies can significantly reduce their costs by safely decreasing the utilization of these living situations. Supportive housing provides an opportunity to do so through positive outcomes for families.

What We Found

By reducing the number of child welfare–funded days provided, child welfare agencies can recognize cost savings. Because of the differential impact of the program, the subsequent savings can vary. We found the average savings per family to be about $14,600 over five years, but the impact and related savings from supportive housing varied by family characteristics and child welfare system involvement.

Effective targeting can increase the impact and cost savings of a supportive housing program. We saw that groups with the highest risk had the greatest reduction in child welfare system days.

We recommend that child welfare agencies explore partnerships with local housing agencies to add supportive housing programs to their current service arrays. By reducing system utilization, child welfare agencies can free funds for supportive housing and other programs that help keep children home and families intact. But more research is needed to understand the full scope of the costs and benefits of supportive housing programs across social service agencies.

How We Did It

We sought to answer one key question: can supportive housing generate cost savings for the child welfare system? To answer this question, we used five years of child welfare system administrative data to examine outcomes related to children’s removal from the home. These outcomes included time spent in out-of-home care (i.e., days in foster care placements, guardianships, and adoption).

To estimate the child welfare cost savings, we first calculated the cost of the out-of-home days avoided through supportive housing. To estimate savings, we multiplied the number of child welfare system days avoided by the daily estimated cost of each day type. We also examined what the savings would be if supportive housing were targeted specifically to families who could benefit the most.

Research Areas Child welfare Children and youth Housing
Tags Child welfare Child maltreatment and prevention Federal housing programs and policies Housing stability Public and assisted housing Housing finance data and tools
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
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