11/06/2014 06:55 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2015

Helping High-Need Families Stay Housed and Together

Many communities have embraced supportive housing for their highest-need populations, including families facing homelessness or other forms of housing instability. Supportive housing harnesses the resources of multiple public agencies and service providers to treat the family as a whole. It gives families a safe and permanent place to call home, as well as the supportive services they need to stay together.

It's encouraging that more and more family-focused organizations, especially child welfare agencies are turning to supportive housing for the range of services it offers to families in crisis.

They know all too well that there are 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 and placing them in foster care or allowing them to remain in an unstable environment. Neither is acceptable.

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 supportive housing is children living safely 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. Keeping Families Together turns the focus primarily on children, helping them recover from any trauma and neglect they suffered in the past.

Through supportive housing, families can build a new, caring environment around themselves. Service providers offer a continuing, stable presence in their lives, helping them sustain that commitment so the children can thrive.

Our Keeping Families Together supportive housing pilot has achieved results that have received favorable attention. So much so, the federal government established Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families with Child Welfare Involvement to help five grantee communities across the country implement similar models of supportive housing.

The US Department of Health and Human Services assembled a $35 million five-year public-private partnership with four philanthropic organizations to use supportive housing to preserve and strengthen more vulnerable families, improve child well-being, and prevent disruptive foster care placements. This demonstration represents the first federally-promoted investment specifically focused on creating supportive housing to reduce child welfare system involvement.

CSH provides important guidance to the five grantees in this demonstration project through the Child Welfare & Supportive Housing Resource Center, which we jointly operate with The Center for the Study of Social Policy.

Together we are poised to build strong and compelling evidence of supportive housing's potential as a cost-effective tool for improving family and child outcomes and addressing avoidable family separations and child removals. More than that, it's a major step forward towards transforming our nation's overall public response to vulnerable families by providing them with the housing assistance, resources and support needed to stay together and grow together.