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Collaboration: Expanding Connections with the Child Welfare System

The new Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System will promote better solutions for families while simultaneously insuring more efficient responses at the systems level.

Last month, I blogged here about the troubling intersection between families who experience homelessness and families who become involved with the child welfare system and temporarily or permanently lose custody of their children.  The research is both clear and distressing: the child welfare and family homelessness systems often serve the same families, at times with little or no communication about efforts that could lead to either prevention of family separations or rapid reunifications.

Thanks to highly creative thinkers like Bryan Samuels and Sonali Patel in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, along with some key national foundations (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation [RWJF], Annie E. Casey FoundationCasey Family Programs, and Edna McConnell Clark Foundation), a new opportunity has just been annouced to promote better solutions for families while simultaneously insuring more efficient responses at the systems level.

Called Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System, HHS will be making up to $5M available annually over the next five years across five communities in the nation to support:

  • The development or expansion of triage procedures for a subset of families who come to the attention of the child welfare system due to severe housing issues and high service needs;
  • Local implementation of supportive housing services that integrate community services for housing and other critical services for the specified target population;
  • Customized case management services for children and their parents, as well as trauma-informed interventions and mental health services through partnerships to access additional services through community-based service providers; and
  • Evaluations that examine the process and outcomes for these grants.

The program builds on lessons learned from the New York City pilot called Keeping Families Together (KFT), an innovative program that brought together city agencies and supportive housing services to strengthen vulnerable families.  KFT, which was supported by RWJF and led by the Corporation for Supportive Housing, demonstrated highly positive outcomes for a small cohort of child-welfare-involved families that received a range of services integrated into their housing.

As RWJF showed us through its support for KFT, the philanthropic sector can play an important role in helping to both stimulate and cement these cross-system relationships.  The roles we can play and activities we can support include:

  • Convening:  Bringing together partners from different systems on “neutral” turf to explore and build new relationships and models for integrated approaches
  • Targeted Funding:  Funding the things that public funds can’t or won’t support, and providing the flexible funds that can be the gap-filler and “glue” that holds new partnerships together
  • Evaluation:  Studying the results of innovation and new efforts to bring multiple systems together
  • Advocacy:  Letting stakeholders from across multiple systems know about what works, and what policy changes at the local, state, and national levels can help promote the most efficient uses of resources with the potential to create the most effective responses

As communities discuss the possibility of applying for these new ACF Funding Partnerships, philanthropic sector partners with interests in both family homelessness and child welfare should be at the table, offering to join in these efforts in ways that will both strengthen local applications for federal funding, as well as enhance the abilities of their communities to mobilize the best possible responses to families struggling with both housing instability and child welfare system involvement.

David_Wertheimer_2012a.jpgDavid Wertheimer is the Deputy Director of the Pacific Northwest Initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, as well as the Board Chair of Funders Together to End Homelessness. Find him at @DavidWSeattle.



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