Inadequate Housing Increases Instances of Foster Care

By Jessica Hansen-Weaver

Screenshot 2014-04-03 08.57.16For vulnerable families facing child welfare investigation, this issue can make the difference in whether their child is removed from their home or not.

A May 2013 study in The American Journal of Community Psychology examines whether inadequate housing increases the threat of out-of-home placement among families under investigation by child protective services (CPS).

The research provides evidence of the intersection between the child welfare system and housing services. Using data from National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, researchers found that inadequate housing contributed to risk for out-of-home placement in 16 percent of intact families under CPS investigation.

The National Survey included data from CPS caseworkers and caregivers on 3,867 families who had active CPS investigations, collected from 1997-2013.

The study highlights the complex issues homeless families faces, which is compounded by the soaring housing prices in a city like San Francisco. According to online real estate site Trulia, San Francisco rental price increases are outpacing the nation more than three-fold – with an average rent of $3,000.

Rachel Stoltzfus is a housing case manager at the Homeless Prenatal Program – a non-profit family resource center in San Francisco and sees cases like this everyday.

“There is no affordable housing in San Francisco,” Stoltzfus said bluntly. “There are long waitlists…up to 2 years.”

This creates a difficult, sometimes insurmountable obstacle for families under CPS investigation. Child welfare agencies require strict timetables to close their investigations, forcing families to show progress towards treatment goals. These mandates often do not match up with time it takes to find adequate housing.

“A couple of my clients say that being homeless increases their anxiety and depression, and their children are starting to notice the added stress,” Stoltsfuz added.

Under this stress homeless families often take extraordinary steps to keep their families intact, sometimes doubling-up in crowded rooms of friends or family.

For those homeless families not already being investigated by Child Protection, accessing homelessness services makes them more likely to fall under CPS surveillance.

Dana Palius is a case manager at Homeless Prenatal Program works exclusively with clients under CPS investigation who are at risk of having children removed or are in process of reunification.

“For families who are living in shelters where there are many mandated reporters, it is more likely that they are reported on than families living in their own home,” Palius said. “Housed families have the privilege of autonomy and privacy.”

Studies like this suggest that housing services may help to prevent homelessness and keep families together. Indeed, this study supports much of the shift in federal legislation such as 2009 Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, which overhauled the homeless assistance through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Jessica Hansen-Weaver is a graduate student of social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. She wrote this story while taking the Journalism for Social Change class.

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