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The Links Between Child Welfare amd Homelessness


  • According to the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, physical neglect is clearly associated with poverty. 47% of children with demonstrable harm from abuse or neglect and 95.9% of endangered children came from families whose income was less than $15,000 a year. 1

  • 30% of children in the foster care system have a homeless or unstably housed parent. 2

  • A survey of 195 children in foster care indicated that half of the children's birth parents had a history of homelessness. 3

  • According to a study published in Child Welfare, 26% of families whose children were in out-of-home care experienced eviction, 42% reported living in a doubled-up situation, and 29% reported experiencing homelessness. 4

  • 20% of child welfare cases reviewed indicated the families' lack of appropriate housing influenced the decision to remove the child from the home or led to a delay in family reunification. 5

  • 30% of children in foster care could be reunited with their parents if safe and affordable housing were available. 6

  • Reunification rates for families in foster care are approximately 50% lower for families who experienced a homeless episode in the 12 months before the child was placed into foster care. 7

  • Homeless parents who report a history of foster care are almost twice as likely to have their own children placed in foster care as homeless people who were never in foster care. 8

  • A lack of adequate housing contributes to an array of health, education and social problems for both children and families. Homeless children experience many of these problems at much higher rates than non-homeless children. They have:
    • Four times as many respiratory infections;
    • Five times as many stomach and diarrheal infections;
    • Six times as many speech and stammering problems;
    • Four times the rate of asthma; and
    • Four times the rate of delayed development. 9

Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

  • 3 in 10 of the nation's homeless adults report foster care history. 10

  • 27% of homeless clients had lived in foster care, a group home, or another institutional setting at some point during their childhood. 11

  • According to a national survey, 25% of foster youth reported that they had been homeless at least one night within 2.5 to 4 years after exiting foster care. 12

  • 58% of all young adults accessing federally funded youth shelters in 1997 have previously been in the foster care system. 13

  • 34% of foster youth in Wisconsin had been homeless or lived in four or more places within 12 to 18 months after exiting foster care. 14

  • 36% of former foster youth in Clark County, Nevada reported there were times when they did not have a place to live. 15

  • 25-40% of youth who become homeless each year identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). 16

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1996b). The 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients: A comparison of faith-based and secular non-profit programs. Available Online (retrieved May 16, 2006) back
  2. GAO (1998). Foster Care: Agencies Face Challenges Securing Stable Homes for Children of Substance Abusers. Available Online. back
  3. Zlotnick, C., Kronstadr, D., & Klee, L. (1998). Foster care children and family homelessness. American Journal of Public Health, 88(9) 1368-1370. back
  4. Courtney, McMurtry, S., & Zinn, A. (2004). Housing problems experienced by recipients of child welfare services. Child Welfare, 83, 389-392. back
  5. Chau, S., Fitzpatrick, A., Hulchanski, J.D., Leslie, B., & Schatia, D. (2001). One in five... housing as a factor in the admission of children to care: New survey of Children's Aid Society of Toronto Updates 1992 Survey. [Reseach Bulletin, 12/01, No.6]. Toronto: Center for Urban and Community Studies. Available Online back
  6. Dorre, Y.A., & Mihaly, L.K. (1996). Home sweet home. Washington, DC: CWLA Press. back
  7. Courtney, M., McMurtry, S.L., & Zinn, A. (2005). Predictors of reunification in a sample of urban out-of-home care cases. Abstract available online back
  8. Roman, N.P. & Wolfe, N. (1995). Web of failure: The relationship between foster care and homelessness. National Alliance to End Homelessness. Available online. back
  9. Committee on Temporary Shelter. (2004). Resources: Homeless Facts; Children and homelessness - Some facts. Available online (retrieved May 16, 2006) back
  10. Roman, N.P. & Wolfe, N. (1995). Web of failure: The relationship between foster care and homelessness. National Alliance to End Homelessness. Available Online. back
  11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1996a). Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Available Online (retrieved May 16, 2006) back
  12. Cook, R. (1991). A national evaluation of title IV-E foster care independent living programs for youth. Rockville, MD: Westat, Inc. back
  13. Data from an unpublished study, cited in Breaking the Foster Care-Homelessness Connection @ Safety Network: The Newsletter of the National Coalition for the Homeless, September-October 1998. Available online. back
  14. Courtney, M.E. & Piliavin, I., (1998). Foster youths transitions to adulthood: Outcomes 12 to 18 months after leaving the out-of-home care. Madison, WI: School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison. back
  15. Reilly, T. (2003). Transitions from care: status and outcomes of youth who age out of foster care. Child Welfare, 82, 727-746. back
  16. Kruks, G., (1991). Gay and lesbian homeless/street youth: special issues and concerns. Journal of Adolescent Health.,12,515-518. back

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