Administration, Private Foundations Announce $35 Million Initiative to Stabilize Highest Risk Families

New program pairs supportive housing and social services to strengthen fragile families, avert foster care placements.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) and three private foundations to jointly fund a $35 million initiative to further test how supportive housing can help stabilize highly vulnerable families and keep children out of the foster care system.

Collaborating foundations include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Casey Family Programs, and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

This groundbreaking initiative is based on a successful pilot effort in New York City, known as Keeping Families Together (KFT), that took place between October 2007 and July 2009. KFT, an initiative of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, integrated affordable housing, on-site case management, and an array of support services to bring stability to families with children at risk for recurring involvement in the child welfare system. KFT worked with 29 families experiencing chronic homelessness, substance abuse and mental health problems, and child welfare involvement. By providing essential supports to families with complex problems—who are often the highest-cost users of social and health services—KFT demonstrated promising results in reuniting children with their families in a safe, more stable environment.

Nancy Barrand, RWJF senior adviser for program development, explained further, “If you look at families engaged in child welfare, a critical problem for many of them is instability at all levels of their life. Supportive housing is a way to stabilize their living situation, and wrap around the other services that they need."

Evaluation results released in February 2011 showed that the KFT model holds real promise. Families participating in KFT experienced a 91 percent housing retention rate. By the end of the evaluation period, 61 percent of the child welfare cases open at the time of placement in supportive housing had been closed, and all six children placed in foster care who wanted to reunite with their family had done so. Families in KFT supportive housing had fewer repeat incidents of child maltreatment; more than half of the families that entered the pilot with a substance abuse problem were reported to be clean and sober by the end of the evaluation period; and families saw additional benefits, including an increase in school attendance rates from approximately 60 percent to 80-85 percent. The annual public cost of the pilot, which included operating and supportive-services costs, was just three dollars a day.

KFT’s early results in New York City suggest that families can be brought back from states of crisis and break the cycle of homelessness and child-welfare engagement. The new public-private initiative will support the spread of similar models in five cities around the country. ACF has released a public Notice of Funding Availability that will close on July 30, 2012.

If successful, this intervention holds the potential to become standard practice for dramatically improving outcomes for some of America’s most at-risk families, with benefits to the system as a whole. Supportive housing programs have been shown to cost 70 percent less than foster care, and it is possible to see an estimated average annual savings of $36 million per year, per state if sufficient supportive housing were available.

Selected cities will be announced in fall 2012.

Watch the video: Home. Stronger, Together

Thanks to a new approach to stabilizing fragile families involved with the child welfare system, a 13-year-old and her father get the integrated services they need through supportive housing to stay together as a family.