Abstract for: Meeting Housing Needs of Child Welfare-Involved Families: Policy Insights from Simulation Modeling

Inadequate housing and inability to meet basic needs contributes to the risk for family separation among nearly 25% of child maltreatment investigations, which disproportionately focus on neglect. Child welfare systems struggle to address demand for housing assistance. A range of tools show promise at stabilizing families, but most remain difficult to access and it is exceedingly difficult to determine who will benefit most from interventions. Decisions about who to serve with scarce resources produce unintended consequences that can waste resources and put more children at risk. Coordinated child welfare responses to inadequate housing are needed to manage the complexities of scarce resource allocation. The present study leverages system dynamics simulations to test the impact of optimized targeting of resources. By incorporating multiple data sources, models replicate trends of family separations and reunifications associated with inadequate housing. A series of policy experiments test strategies for meeting families’ housing needs and improving child welfare outcomes. Optimized service delivery increases likelihood that families will receive appropriate services according to their specific needs, but creates delays in access unless capacity is expanded. Improved targeting in the absence of expanded service capacity increases wait times and intensifies families’ vulnerability. Findings indicate the importance of both better quality assessments of families entering homeless services and expanded capacity to meet a variety of needs.