Abstract: Does Supportive Housing for Child Welfare Involved Families Improve Housing and Economic Stability 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 Housing and Economic Stability over Time?

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Mike Pergamit, PhD, Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute, Washington, DC, DC
Catherine Kuhns, PhD, Research Associate, The Urban Institute, District of Columbia, DC
Background and Purpose: Families experiencing homelessness or housing instability find it challenging to provide a stable environment for their children. By providing housing and supports, families can concentrate on taking care of themselves and their children. 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 receive supportive housing (treatment group, N = 377) or services-as-usual (control group, N = 430). This paper considers whether providing supportive housing provides the foundation for parents to provide housing and economic stability to their families.

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 housing and homelessness, employment, and financial stability.

Results: Not surprising, families receiving supportive housing showed more housing stability with fewer moves and higher rates of having a home with a lease in their name as well as fewer homeless spells and fewer nights spent in homeless shelters. They also were less likely than the control group to be rent burdened and faced less overcrowding. However, they did not have higher quality housing nor feel their neighborhood was better than did the control families.

Treatment group parents were less likely to work than control group parents and had lower earnings as a result. Although they received higher levels of government benefits, their total household income was lower than control families, but the housing subsidy made up the difference. Treatment group families showed lower levels of material hardship (housing, food, utilities, and medical costs) and relied less on costly financial services such as check cashing stores, pawn shops, and carrying credit card balances.

Treatment group parents benefited from supportive housing in other ways that aid with caring for their children including less intimate partner violence and lower rates of depression than control group parents. On the other hand, they did not feel any more control of their lives than did control group parents.

Conclusions and Implications: Supportive housing provides long-term stability that allows parents to meet their families’ housing and economic needs better than does usual services, which is not to say these families are thriving. The housing subsidy and receipt of other government benefits appears to lead to lower levels of employment. Further investigation of other outcomes will inform as to whether this allows parents to devote more time and care of their children.