State Strategies To Mitigate The Impact Of Housing Instability On Child Welfare Involvement


Each year, the National Governors Association (NGA) welcomes the nation’s Governors to Washington, D.C., for the annual NGA Winter Meeting. During the three-day meeting, Governors discuss issues most pertinent to the states and territories and connect with national experts representing the business sector, academia, philanthropy and government. During the 2024 Winter Meeting, NGA Vice Chair Colorado Governor Jared Polis led a roundtable discussion on housing affordability and availability, where the Governors from Delaware, Hawai‘i, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Wyoming discussed approaches and common barriers, with Montana Governor Greg Gianforte sharing that “[housing] is the number one issue facing working families.”

Housing is a topic that increasingly has Governors  reaching into their State Executive toolbox. Why? Traditionally, most of the funding for housing initiatives has flowed directly through counties and municipalities; however, the advent of such federal programs like the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) that supported states’ ability to address consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has opened the door to Governors having more policy and funding levers at their disposal. As Governors continue to seek mechanisms that can support the care and well-being of families, one of their biggest responsibilities, prudent leaders should explore the interaction between housing instability and child welfare involvement impacting thousands of families each year. Family housing instability, whether it entails experiencing homelessness or facing an impending eviction, can directly lead to the entry of a child into the foster care system or exacerbate stress, placing additional burdens on struggling families. Across the country, concerns about housing were noted in nearly one out of every 10 cases of children entering foster care in Fiscal Year 2021. Between a lack of stable housing and issues with housing quality (like inadequate heating, electricity, etc.), this is a paramount concern for state child welfare agencies.

Apart from triggering a removal, housing instability can also delay family reunification; if a family does not have a safe and stable place to live, a child welfare agency may be hesitant to return a child to the family’s care. Housing instability is correlated with threats to the safety of children, including higher rates of physical abuseHousing instability and parental separation can also generate toxic stress generate toxic stress, an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that can cause negative health outcomes for a child in the long term, like physical and mental illness. Furthermore, research shows that youth who age out of foster care (who leave foster care as adults without returning to live with their family or another family) are at a higher risk for homelessness, substance use and unemployment.


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