Supportive Housing for Families Program
The Supportive Housing for Families (SHF) Program preserves and unifies families and prevents family homelessness by providing permanent affordable housing and 12-18 months of home-based intensive case management to families involved with the Connecticut child welfare system. Case management and housing supports are offered together, and with flexibility, in order to meet each family’s and child’s individualized needs. SHF is a collaborative program of the CT Department of Children and Families, the CT Department of Social Services, and The Connection Inc., a statewide provider of human services and housing.
Problem or Challenge:
Housing and child welfare problems are often intertwined. For families living in poverty, inadequate housing conditions may trigger a child welfare investigation and the placement of children in foster care, or may delay family reunification. Reunification rates for families in foster care are approximately 50 percent lower for families who experienced a homeless episode in the year prior to placement.
With the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) began to look more closely at the intersection of housing and child welfare. In particular, local research and practice found that parents who were in treatment for substance use disorder needed housing when they returned – without stable, affordable housing, parents found it very difficult to remain sober and reunite with their families. At the same time, the State realized that addressing child welfare by housing entire families, rather than removing children and placing them in foster care, could not only benefit the families, but it would also be cost-effective, as the cost of foster care exceeds the cost of a housing subsidy for most families.
As a result, State officials decided to provide scattered-site housing and intensive services to families involved with the child welfare system that had a parent with a substance use disorder. In 1998 DCF contracted with The Connection and partnered with the CT Department of Social Services (DSS) to create the Supportive Housing for Families program. The program was later expanded to serve other DCF families at risk of homelessness, not just those with substance use disorder issues.
The Supportive Housing for Families Program (SHF) provides permanent, affordable housing coupled with supportive services to families involved with the Connecticut child welfare system. The program is designed to preserve families at risk of separation, reunify families who have been separated, preserve and renew parent-child relationships, and prevent family homelessness. The program is centered on access to scattered-site permanent housing, home-based intensive case management, coordination of mental health and related interventions, housing assistance (through tenant-based rental housing assistance), vocational counseling and supports, and building connections in the community. The strength of the relationship between the case manager and the children and parent(s) is the mainstay of the program and allows the families to attain better parenting skills, better daily living skills, and sustained recovery.
DCF funds the program and provides referrals, parenting interventions, and access to child welfare resources in coordination with SHF case managers. DCF contracts with The Connection, a nonprofit human service and community development agency, to operate the SHF program. Case management services are provided by The Connection and by seven subcontractors, each a community-based nonprofit agency. This network of local providers enables SHF to better keep families in their own communities and neighborhoods. The Connection provides centralized training, data collection, and reporting for the program statewide. DCF and The Connection collaborate with DSS to facilitate procurement of housing subsidies.
Families who have an active case with DCF, are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and are in compliance with their family reunification or preservation plan are eligible for the SHF program. In addition, they must meet the eligibility requirements for HUD’s Family Unification Program or the State Rental Assistance Program (RAP) in order to receive rental subsidies.
Data from a 2010 study of 1,720 individuals referred to SHF over a 10-year period found that participants have been mostly female (93%) and single (75%); about 40 percent were White, 30 percent Latino, and 28 percent African American. Over the 10-year period, DCF referred about 172 households annually to the program; and, an average of 116 per year (67%) actually entered. Most families (75%) entered from temporary housing; only 5 percent entered from homeless shelters, 7 percent entered from residential substance use disorder or mental health treatment, and 10 percent from permanent housing. The majority (61%) were unemployed at entry. Most children were in the care of their parent at entry (73%). Nearly 30 percent of families had at least one child in foster care or residential care, and 8 percent had informally placed children with relatives.
SHF housing coordinators employed by the local agencies serve as liaisons between landlords, families, and case managers. They work to build strong relationships with local landlords and housing authorities to help create housing options for participants. The coordinators perform HUD-certified inspections of the housing units, help families identify decent apartments in safe neighborhoods, and assist families in overcoming any barriers to housing, such as outstanding debt. Coordinators also work with families to secure a permanent rental subsidy voucher through the HUD Family Unification Program or through the State of Connecticut’s RAP program. Both subsidy programs are administered by DSS, which has established voucher set-asides for SHF. Under these programs, families pay a share of the rent based on 30-40 percent of their income.
Intensive case management is the keystone of services for the family. Case management occurs in the participant’s home, at SHF offices, and in the community (e.g., consultation with service providers). Case managers perform weekly home visits, working with the family to create the family care plan and becoming the single point of accountability for coordination of all appropriate services as identified in the plan. Case managers work to build a relationship with the family and become a consistent and reliable presence in the family’s life.
Each SHF case manager works with 12-15 families. Case management services are provided for approximately 12-18 months (the average is 12 months), and in some cases longer, depending on the needs of the family.
SHF employs a three-step approach. First, an assessment team uses a research-level, outcome-oriented assessment battery to determine each family’s specific needs. Second, one assigned case manager works with a family throughout the length of their participation in the program and is available 24/7. Third, flexible funds are utilized to address immediate, practical needs and keep families in housing. Examples of specific supports to the families include child care expenses, medical/dental costs, temporary rental payments, security deposits, utility payments, clothing, moving expenses and furniture.
From its launch in 1998 to 2012, SHF housed 1,781 families, and their 3,271 children were reunified or remained with their families.
A 2010 study by researchers at the University of Connecticut documented participant outcomes at the time of exit from the program. The study found that families who completed the program successfully had longer stays in the program, were more likely to have a history of permanent housing and employment, and had higher initial and exit scores on a measure of environment of care. While over 90 percent of families who entered the program from permanent housing returned to permanent housing, about 68 percent who entered from temporary housing (the vast majority) achieved permanent housing at exit. Nearly 30 percent of parents who were unemployed at entry had secured employment at exit.
For additional information, see the following resource: Farrell, A.F., Britner, P.A., Guzzardo, M., & Goodrich, S. (2010). Supportive housing for families in child welfare: Client characteristics and their outcomes at discharge. Children and Youth Service Review, 32, 145-154.
Contact Info for Follow-up:
www.theconnectioninc.org. This site includes links to a program summary as well as a link to the 2010 study.
Evidence-Based Practice: Rental Housing Assistance