By Jasmine Hayes
Deputy Director, United States Interagency Council on Homeless
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to acknowledge and raise awareness of the important roles we all play—families, communities, service providers, researchers, policy makers and others—to prevent child abuse and neglect and to promote the overall social, physical, and emotional well-being of children and their families.
This year’s theme, Building Community, Building Hope, highlights the critical role that strong and nurturing communities play in the lives of families—in all their diverse configurations—and reinforces a multidisciplinary approach to prevention that engages the fields of research, policy, and practice to support strategies that strengthen families and protect children.
Connections between child abuse and family homelessness
We know that factors like poverty, unemployment, housing instability and homelessness, as well as individual and family characteristics, increase the risk of abuse and neglect and involvement with the child welfare system. The intersection of child welfare involvement and family homelessness is well documented:
- Inadequate housing or homelessness increases the risk of family separations and placement of children in out-of-home care, and delays reunification of families from foster care.
- Some studies suggest that repeated shelter entries and longer stays in the shelter system are related to increased involvement with the child welfare system.
- Of the approximately 265,000 children who entered foster care across the country in 2015, inadequate housing was reported as a reason associated with the child’s removal for over 10% of these children.
Child welfare and the coordinated community response to homelessness
The child welfare system has a strong role to play in the coordinated community response to ending family homelessness. That’s why USICH and our member agencies have been working to gather community feedback and build evidence around the strongest practices and partnerships.
The ACYF demonstration grants, Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System, are being implemented in five communities and are informing our understanding of how the child welfare system can better support families with high service needs, including lack of housing, to prevent entry into foster care, or assist with reunification.
Building on what we’re learning about cross-system partnerships, USICH partnered with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Casey Family Programs, CSH, HHS, and HUD to convene the Housing and Child Welfare Partnership Forum in September 2016 that brought together teams of state and local leaders representing the child welfare, housing, and homelessness assistance systems.
These five teams, from the District of Columbia, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee, focused on key strategies to develop and strengthen partnerships between housing and child welfare systems including establishment of common interests, building relationships to secure leadership buy-in and front-line engagement, identifying ways to collaborate that build on the strengths of each system, and sustaining the partnership.
This forum is shaping the development of guidance and tools from federal agencies. For example, in January 2017, the Children’s Bureau released an Information Memorandum that provides an overview of existing federal efforts and resources to enhance the child welfare system’s response to family and youth homelessness. This memorandum identifies concrete actions the child welfare system can take as part of a coordinated effort to prevent and end homelessness at the state and local level.
Over the coming months, USICH and its partners will continue to highlight examples of strong child welfare and housing partnerships that are having an impact on efforts to end homelessness, along with guidance for states and communities to address some of the challenges to effective partnerships, including data sharing, employing a Housing First approach, and addressing the needs of unaccompanied minors experiencing homelessness.
Ending family homelessness and preventing child abuse and neglect go hand in hand. This month, and throughout the year, we will continue to support and strengthen communities as they work to achieve both of those goals.
Learn more about the federal response to family homelessness, including progress, essential strategies, and tools to support the work ahead.