Academic journal article Child Welfare

Housing Problems Experienced by Recipients of Child Welfare Services

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Housing Problems Experienced by Recipients of Child Welfare Services

Article excerpt

This study uses data on the experiences of families involved with child welfare services to examine the nature of housing problems and needs among these families and whether housing status affects case outcomes. First, the article describes the housing difficulties faced by two distinct child welfare service populations: families receiving voluntary in-home services and families with children in court-ordered out-of-home care. second, the study demonstrates the relationship between housing problems and the likelihood of family reunification for children in out-of-home care. The findings have implications for the delivery of child welfare services and the provision of housing assistance to low-income families with children.

Poverty is a well-documented risk factor for family involvement with child protective services and other elements of the child welfare system. This is partly because people are more likely to report poor families than affluent ones to child welfare authorities, but problems caused by poverty are also associated with a higher real incidence of various forms of child maltreatment (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). Housing problems are both corollaries of poverty and threats to child and family well-being, yet child welfare research has a spotty record of including housing variables in analyses of case progress and case outcomes. This gap may be increasingly problematic given what many observers have termed a developing crisis in access to adequate housing on the part of low- and middle-income families.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC, 2003) uses the term housing wage to describe earnings needed by workers in varying-size households to afford adequate housing while keeping the cost to no more than 30% of gross income. In a 2003 report, NLIHC noted that nationally in 2003, the housing wage was $15.21 per hour, or more than one-third higher than only four years earlier. At this level, no household in the bottom fifth of annual earnings could afford a two-bedroom home at fair-market rental rates in any state in the country. In addition, a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies (2003) at Harvard University noted that "between 1997 and 2001, the number of lower-middle and middle-income households spending more than half their incomes on housing surged by more than 700,000" (p. 7).

According to the NLIHC (2003) report, the housing wage in 2003 was more than three times the minimum wage in 11 states, and many poor families struggled with steady access to even minimumwage jobs. In addition, only 34% of households in the lowest fifth of annual income levels received any form of government housing assistance in 2001, and "the already scarce supply of smaller, less costly housing is shrinking, with especially sharp losses among two- to four-unit apartment buildings" (Joint Center for Housing Studies, 2003, p. 7).

Also of potential concern to child welfare agencies is the issue of high residential mobility. Moves are common in low-income families because of pressures to share housing, be near family members, be near temporary employment, and avoid creditors, among other factors (Crowley, 2003). Considerable evidence suggests, however, that rapid mobility can adversely affect child wellbeing, especially in poor families that suffer from disrupted access to social and material supports caused by frequent moves and that lack resources that might buffer the effects of these disruptions on their children (Scanlon & Devine, 2001). Residential instability also increases the difficulties service providers face in maintaining service continuity.

Few studies have addressed issues such as the nature of housing problems and needs among families involved with the child welfare system, whether housing variables are associated with the likelihood of system involvement, and whether the provision of housing-related services affects case outcomes. This study is intended to help further clarify the importance of housing problems among families receiving child welfare services. …

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