Child and Family Homelessness

4Unstable or lack of housing is a driver for many negative outcomes for children, including poor educational outcomes and child abuse and neglect, yet there are few avenues by which a child’s housing status is documented. New Mexico has no idea of the size and depth of the homelessness problem of children in our state. Appleseed is working with homeless children and families, school districts and social services providers to identify more children, understand their needs and connect them with effective services.

The Keeping Families Together (KFT) Initiative seeks to provide a stable foundation for unstable families that are both homeless and have lost or are at risk of losing their children to foster care. Often, the problems that lead to homelessness and the problems that require child welfare intervention overlap and compound. Parents who have no resources to learn effective parenting skills are even less functioning when foster care impacts their family unit. By offering families a supportive housing environment, parents who have lost their children to foster care, or who are at risk of doing so, can begin focusing on overcoming their challenges, knowing their children are safe in a stable and consistent home.

In summer 2009, over 14,500 children and youth were estimated homeless in New Mexico. Over the years, this number has increased substantially. Parents with children are the fastest growing segment of homelessness, now comprising roughly one-third of the total homeless population. This growing population creates challenges not only for families seeking stability, but also for the strained child welfare system that attempts to keep children protected from unstable and dangerous circumstances.

While families do not lose their children to the foster care system for being homeless, the inability to offer children a stable home often exacerbates the problems underlying a family’s loss of custody. Addressing the homelessness and child welfare issues together in the context of supportive housing increases the likelihood of long-term family stability.

Keeping Families Together, based on an innovative and evidence-based model in New York City, will create an environment for success for these families by using supportive housing as a child welfare intervention. By supporting these families to success, families can expect to see long-term outcomes in family and housing stability and the state can see the expenses required to take care of families in constant crisis lessen.

The New York KFT families saw tremendous outcomes that we hope to see with our pilot. More families stayed together. They treated their children better. They resolved their child welfare cases more quickly and they stayed clean.

  • Families staying together: 61% more child welfare cases favorably resolved for enrolled families.
  • Less maltreatment: KFT families have fewer incidences of repeat maltreatment of children while living in supportive housing.
  • Faster resolutions: Preventive child services cases were favorably resolved an average of 10 months after the family was housed (compared to 12 months for non-KFT families).
  • Substance abuse rehabilitation: Nearly all families that entered with a substance abuse problem were reported clean and sober at the end of the evaluation period.
  • Increased student attendance: School-aged children participating in the KFT program showed steady average increases in school attendance from before move-in to after move-in.

Our Goals

  • Convene and collaborate with stakeholders to tailor the program to New Mexico’s needs.
  • Assess financial impact of the program in New Mexico.
  • Identify legal avenues for change.
  • Craft and advocate for a policy recommendation and state funding for a Keeping Families Together pilot in the 2014 legislative session.