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Federal Officials Announce Expanded Program to Help Homeless Families in Child Welfare Systems

A successful pilot program aimed at helping homeless families with a history of child abuse or neglect will be expanded to several new areas, federal child welfare officials announced. The program helps families secure housing while also providing a variety of social services to help keep homeless children from landing in child welfare systems. Kelli Kennedy of The Associated Press has more on this turn of events:

The five-year, $35 million expansion to several areas across the country provides permanent housing for a few hundred families who have been homeless for at least a year, and had at least one case of child abuse or neglect. Homeless families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population and account for more than one-third of overall homelessness, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The program is part of a push from child welfare officials to keep with their families whenever possible while providing services such as housing, job training, mental health treatment and parenting classes to create more stability. Officials say the approach is designed to address the fact that many child welfare workers are often unsure of how to handle cases involving homeless families:

“These are the complex families. These are the ones that child welfare systems struggle to know what the right set of resources are. These are the families that stay in the system longer because they have both the family related issues as well as poverty,” said Administration for Children and Families Commissioner Bryan Samuels.

While there are a variety of issues involved with helping homeless families in child welfare systems–such as the need to consider the child’s imminent safety and long-term best interests–the pilot program’s success seems promising:

The housing program announced Wednesday builds on a pilot in New York City that started in 2007. Three years later, the majority of families had stable housing and school attendance improved steadily. Most families had no new abuse or neglect cases after moving to supportive housing and six children previously placed in foster care were reunited with their biological families, according to federal health officials.

The program will now expand to South Florida, San Francisco, Connecticut, Memphis, Tenn. and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Each region will be allowed to modify the program as needed to suit local needs. It’s believed that the savings in child welfare services will mostly defray the cost of the program, as it did in New York City.

Details are still pending on implementation, but officials have made it clear they are committed to the program’s continued success:

“We’re not placing a limit. What we want to do is get the best result for kids and families,” Samuels said. “We have said to these communities they can use these resources as long as they need to serve them in order to see their success.”