Bouncing from couch to couch, living in a car, unable to leave a domestic violence situation because they have no money to move means parents are more likely to commit child abuse and neglect. Keeping Families Together, a program spearheaded by Appleseed uses permanent supportive housing as a child maltreatment intervention. 90 families saw a 60-80 percent reduction in maltreatment claims a year after they were first housed. We are working to expand this to program to 150 new families and show how critical housing is to child wellbeing.
The Problem: Unstably Housed Children are More Likely to Be Abused and/or Neglected
It is no coincidence that in New Mexico, 72% of mothers and 47% of fathers of children in CYFD custody are homeless or have inadequate housing, or that 76% of mothers and 50% of fathers have inadequate financial resources or are unemployed. 73% of substantiated reports made to CYFD fall into the category of “physical neglect,” a term that includes inadequate or unstable housing. Homelessness and inadequate housing may also contribute to physical abuse (roughly 25% of substantiated CYFD cases) by increasing parents’ stress and depleting their emotional resources.
In New Mexico, we have both high levels of family homelessness and the resulting high levels of child abuse and neglect. With over 16,000 homeless children in the state, New Mexico ranks among the ten worst states in the country for child homelessness. At the same time, New Mexico has up to 5,600 substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect per year and approximately 2,000 children in foster care.
Homeless families may be more likely than their stably housed counterparts to cycle back into CYFD. “Repeat maltreatment,” or repeated involvement with the child welfare system, is more likely to occur in families who are extremely poor, lack social supports, or have multiple needs or problems, such as homelessness or inadequate housing. Because CYFD does not have the tools to address family homelessness, children from homeless families may be at increased risk of cycling in and out of the child welfare system.
The Solution: Expanding Access to Permanent Supportive Housing
In 2014, New Mexico Appleseed spearheaded legislation to establish a state-wide supportive housing pilot, Keeping Families Together, for 60 families that (1) had a substantiated case of child maltreatment, (2) substance abuse or mental health issue, and (3) were unstably housed or homeless. Supportive housing is permanent housing with services and is a promising model in terms of its effectiveness.
The New Mexico pilot with ended in 2018 with promising initial results in reducing incidences of child maltreatment and keeping families housed between 64-100%. It was renewed by the state for three more years.
New Mexico Appleseed is working to expand the pilot to 150 families not only to help those families, but to test the hypothesis that stable and supportive housing improves educational, health and child wellbeing. We are in the exploratory phase with the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County to find the funding to expand this important program.