Homelessness in the child welfare system: A randomized controlled trial to assess the impact of housing subsidies on foster care placements and costs

Child Abuse Negl. 2018 Sep;83:52-61. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.07.014. Epub 2018 Jul 17.


Inadequate housing and homelessness among families represent a substantial challenge for child and adolescent well-being. Child welfare services confront housing that threatens placement into foster care with little resources and evidence to guide practice. The present study provides the first rigorous test of the Family Unification Program (FUP) - a federal program that offers housing subsidies for inadequately housed families under investigation for child maltreatment. A randomized controlled trial assesses program impact on foster care placement and costs. The experiment referred intact child welfare-involved families whose inadequate housing threatened foster placement in Chicago, IL to FUP plus housing advocacy (n = 89 families with 257 children) or housing advocacy alone (n = 89 families with 257 children). Families were referred from 2011 to 2013, and administrative data recorded dates and costs of foster placements over a 3-year follow-up. Intent-to-treat analyses suggested families randomly assigned for FUP exhibited slower increases in rates of foster placement following housing intervention compared with families referred for housing advocacy alone. The program generates average savings of nearly $500 per family per year to the foster care system. Housing subsidies provide the foster care system small but significant benefits for keeping homeless families together. Findings inform the design of a coordinated child welfare response to housing insecurity.

Keywords: Child maltreatment; Child welfare system; Economic analysis; Homelessness; Housing; Randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Chicago
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / economics
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Welfare
  • Child, Preschool
  • Family
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Resources / economics
  • Health Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Homeless Youth / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons / statistics & numerical data
  • Income
  • Intention to Treat Analysis
  • Male
  • Public Assistance / economics
  • Public Assistance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Public Housing / economics*
  • Public Housing / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Welfare / economics
  • Social Welfare / statistics & numerical data