Abstract: Does Supportive Housing for Child Welfare Involved Families Improve Parenting and Child Well-Being over Time? (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Does Supportive Housing for Child Welfare Involved Families Improve Parenting and Child Well-Being over Time?

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Catherine Kuhns, PhD, Research Associate, The Urban Institute, District of Columbia, DC
Mike Pergamit, PhD, Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute, Washington, DC, DC
Background and Purpose: Housing provides families with a foundation of stability critical for children’s healthy growth and development. Alternatively, housing instability (i.e., homelessness, doubling up in overcrowded and precarious living situations, or living in unsafe conditions) has enormous consequences for children and families, potentially compromising parents’ mental health and ability to adequately care for their children, and putting their children at risk for poor outcomes. In 2012, the Children’s Bureau funded a five-year demonstration that provided supportive housing to families in the child welfare system in five sites. The Urban Institute conducted the cross-site evaluation, a mixed-methods randomized controlled trial that included 807 families who were randomized to either a treatment group (N = 377) or a control group (N = 430). This study focused on answering the following question: Does supportive housing improve the health and social and emotional well-being children, and contribute to improved parenting?

Method: We drew upon family surveys conducted 54 months after randomization for families in the treatment and control groups at each site. Prior to COVID, families were interviewed in their homes or in a mutually agreed upon location; families interviewed after March 2020 were interviewed over the phone. Interviewers surveyed one family member, and surveys included questions on child health, behavior and school performance, as well as parenting.

Results: Receiving supportive housing appeared to have little impact on parenting 54 months after the intervention in terms of parental warmth, parenting stress/skills, and the use of corporal punishment and verbal aggression as parenting strategies. Somewhat concerningly, parents in the treatment group reported a marginally higher occurrence of displaying neglectful behaviors in the past 12 months, compared to children in families in the control group.

Impacts on children’s behavior and school level indicators varied by child age. Infants in treatment group families had significantly higher levels of inflexibility and irritability than infants in the control group, but toddlers in control group families had significantly higher problem behavior than toddlers in the treatment group. Older children (age 6-18) in the control group demonstrated higher levels of prosocial behavior, but also had higher absence rates than children in treatment group families. Children younger than school age in the control group were more likely than children in the treatment group to be enrolled in early education.

Conclusions and Implications: The mixed findings in regard to the long-term role of supportive housing for parent and child well-being require further investigation. In some cases, findings may be indicative of increased visibility and monitoring that treatment group families experienced, while others may be related to site-specific variation in services provided to the treatment group. Impacts on parents and children may fade out 4.5 years post-randomization, or may not be targeted enough to impact parenting behaviors and children’s socio-emotional development.