Abstract for: Homelessness in the Child Welfare System: Barriers for Safety, Permanency, and Well-Being

Over one-quarter of a million children enter foster care in the United States annually as a result of maltreatment (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015). Investigations indicate family instability and vulnerability, and need for services to support parents and promote healthy child development. While foster care placement may be necessary for child safety, underlying socioeconomic stressors may persist despite intervention. Without supports to address the difficulties low-income families face in providing safe, stimulating environments for children, caregiver stress and risk for ongoing maltreatment remain high. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the number of children entering foster care has increased, outstripping the number of children who are reunified with their families. The present study models how the presence of family housing problems drives up maltreatment, which influences how children move through the child welfare system. Findings indicate that when families struggle to afford adequate housing, children are more likely to enter foster care and to be reinvestigated after reunification, creating a “revolving door” whereby the strained child welfare system serves the same families repeatedly. Implications include the need to address socioeconomic problems in families reported for maltreatment, particularly with regards to housing.