MIAMI -- Federal child welfare officials announced Wednesday they are expanding a pilot program that provides housing and case workers to homeless families most at risk for having a child enter foster care.
The five-year, $35 million expansion to several areas across the country provides permanent housing for a few hundred families who have been homeless for at least a year, and had at least one case of child abuse or neglect. Homeless families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population and account for more than one-third of overall homelessness, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The focus on deep-rooted issues related to poverty comes as child welfare officials are pushing to keep kids safely in the home and provide services whenever possible instead of rushing to place them in foster care. In the past, those services traditionally focused on the childs imminent safety, but officials are now looking to provide more intensive services including job training, substance abuse and mental health treatment, trauma counseling for children growing up in these homes and parenting skills.
"These are the complex families. These are the ones that child welfare systems struggle to know what the right set of resources are. These are the families that stay in the system longer because they have both the family related issues as well as poverty," said Administration for Children and Families Commissioner Bryan Samuels.
The program aims to reduce the number of children entering foster care for families in South Florida, San Francisco, Connecticut, Memphis, Tenn. and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Each region can tailor services to the needs of families in that area instead of using a cookie cutter approach.
The grant recipients partnered with local public housing officials in each area that will provide free housing, although it's not clear how long the families can live there. Officials said it's too early in the program to determine how long they will need services before they are independent.
"We're not placing a limit. What we want to do is get the best result for kids and families," Samuels said. "We have said to these communities they can use these resources as long as they need to serve them in order to see their success."
The housing program announced Wednesday builds on a pilot in New York City that started in 2007. Three years later, the majority of families had stable housing and school attendance improved steadily. Most families had no new abuse or neglect cases after moving to supportive housing and six children previously placed in foster care were reunited with their biological families, according to federal health officials.
Officials said government agencies saved nearly $2 million in child welfare services for families in the pilot program over two years, which accounted for most of the housing costs.