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Deborah De Santis Headshot

Keeping Families Together Matters

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Many of our public systems have embraced supportive housing for their highest need populations. And now child welfare agencies are poised to incorporate supportive housing into the range of services they offer to families in need as well. As we end National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I want to turn a spotlight on the very vulnerable families in our communities, and think about how supportive housing can make a difference for the children who are a part of them.

We've learned that there is a subset of families in which parents face deep-rooted, intractable challenges like extreme poverty, homelessness, behavioral health issues and social isolation. Regardless of their intentions, those parents cannot provide a stable home for their children if those issues are unaddressed. The result? Our child protective system must choose between two terrible options: removing children from their home or allow them to remain living in an unstable environment. Neither is what we want for the children in our communities.

Though our groundbreaking Keeping Families Together initiative, we have discovered that supportive housing is a very promising approach for these families -- one that has the potential to decrease unnecessary foster care placements and keep children safely at home.

The goal of Keeping Families Together is to keep children safe with their families by providing permanent housing plus case management and support. This combination is critical for families who have trouble meeting their children's basic needs and have recurring involvement with the child welfare system. Typically, the families with deep-rooted, ongoing challenges receive multiple referrals and get traditional services focused on the imminent safety of the child. But over time, the parent or caretaker continually fails to provide a minimum degree of care to the child. Keeping Families Together will integrate and better use resources from public agencies that already serve these families, while providing another option when foster care is not absolutely essential.

Success in supportive housing is usually based on housing stability and improvements in the health/behavioral health of the head of household. Unlike those traditional models, Keeping Families Together turns the focus primarily on children. Our main goal is that children will recover from the trauma and neglect they have suffered in the past. That they will go on to form positive social relationships, engage in their community, and achieve educational pursuits and other life goals.

Supportive housing makes that possible for children in families with even the most complex challenges. Through supportive housing, families can build a new caring community around themselves. Service providers offer a continuing, stable presence in their lives, helping them build and sustain that community so the children can thrive.

With this kind of supportive housing program available, communities can decrease unnecessary foster care placement, and ultimately, end the tragic cycles of poverty and institutional involvement. That's the kind of success our communities and our children deserve.

For the past year, CSH has been working with communities around the country to lay the groundwork to replicate Keeping Families Together. It's encouraging to see how dedicated these communities have been coming together even without funding in place to ensure that children get the kind of services they need. Together, we can create a new option for at-risk families that includes supportive housing -- because keeping families together matters.