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Program Profile: Family Unification Program (Chicago, Ill.)

Evidence Rating: Effective - One study Effective - One study

Date: This profile was posted on February 11, 2020

Program Summary

This program is designed to stabilize families at risk for parent-child separation by addressing housing needs. The program is rated Effective. There was a statistically significant positive effect on rate of placement in foster care for treatment group children, meaning treatment group children were placed in foster care at a slower rate, compared with control group children.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Family Unification Program (FUP) is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) initiative that aims to facilitate interagency collaboration between the child welfare and public housing service systems. FUP is designed to stabilize families at risk for parent-child separation by addressing housing needs. FUP requires formal partnerships between local public housing authorities (PHAs) and public child welfare agencies. Child welfare agencies identify eligible families and certify a housing need that threatens to cause parent-child separation. Families are then referred to screening for Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) eligibility by housing authorities.

Target Population/Eligibility
FUP vouchers may be used for three populations: 1) families whose inadequate housing increases the risk of their children’s formal out-of-home placement; 2) caregivers whose housing circumstances delay reunification with children already moved into child welfare placements; and 3) youth ages 18 to 21 years who left foster care after age 15 and who lack adequate housing. The program defines inadequate housing as 1) being homeless, 2) being at imminent risk for eviction, 3) being displaced because of domestic violence, 4) having substandard or dilapidated living conditions, 5) having overcrowded units, and/or 6) having inaccessible housing for disabled children. Families must also meet requirements for the HCV program based on local standards agreed upon within HUD. These standards include having an annual gross income that falls below thresholds per fair market rental values by family size, a criminal background clearance, an absence of existing outstanding debts to PHAs, and timely lease-ups in approved housing units.

Services Provided
HCVs are intended to enable eligible families to lease or purchase safe and sanitary housing that is affordable in the private housing market. Families are responsible for finding housing that meets their basic needs and fits program requirements. Once the family identifies a reasonably priced housing unit that fits quality standards, the PHA executes a contract with the property owner. This contract authorizes the PHA to make subsidy payments on behalf of the family. If the family moves out of the unit, the contract with the owner ends, but the family may continue to receive payment assistance at another unit. The PHA pays the owner the difference between 30 percent of the family income and the PHA-determined payment standard or gross rent, whichever is lower.

The family may also choose a unit with a higher rent than the payment standard and pay the owner the difference, which may not exceed 40 percent of the family’s annual adjusted income. The level of assistance provided to families eligible for Section 8 housing varies among PHAs. For example, in Illinois, the Chicago Housing Authority provides a variety of services for low-income families, including mobility counseling, utility assistance, and connection to employment and education services.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Formal Out-Of-Home Placements
Fowler and colleagues (2018) found that children whose families participated in the Family Unification Program (FUP) had slower increases in the rate of formal out-of-home placements, compared with control group children, at the 36-month follow up. This indicates that control children were placed in foster care at a faster rate than were FUP children. This difference was statistically significant.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Fowler and colleagues (2018) conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess the impact of Family Unification Program (FUP) on foster care placements in Chicago, Ill. Eligible families included intact families, under investigation for child maltreatment by the child welfare system, whose inadequate housing threatened to result in out-of-home placement for one or more of their children. Families were required to meet eligibility criteria for the FUP, which stipulates that families must have 1) inadequate housing that increases the risk of child removal from the home, 2) a household income below 30 percent of the area median income for similarly sized families, and 3) at least one household member who is a U.S. citizen. Additionally, public housing rules prohibit the acceptance of caregivers who have debts to any housing authority or who have a criminal history. The child welfare system also requires all families to live within the geographic area served by the Chicago Housing Authority when referred for FUP. Child welfare–involved families working toward reunification with children already placed out of home were excluded. The child welfare system provided immediate referrals for FUP to eligible families, and the study authors enrolled this eligible population of intact families between August 2011 and July 2013.

The final sample comprised 178 families. Both the control and treatment families received housing case management through the Housing Advocacy Program (HAP), which uses community-based services to provide families with guidance, education, and direct assistance to address inadequate housing that threatens family stability. In addition to these services, treatment families received FUP. The families were evenly divided. Of the total sample, 89 were assigned to the control group (HAP only), and 89 were assigned to the treatment group (HAP plus FUP). There were 257 children in the control group, with an average age of 6.5 years. In the control group, just over half of the children were female (50.6 percent), and 71.6 percent were black, 14 percent were Hispanic, 10.5 percent were white, and 3.9 percent identified as other. Control families had an average of four children per household, and 19.1 percent had prior foster placement. The FUP group also had 257 children, with an average age of 6.28 years. Approximately 47 percent of the children were female, and 74 percent were black, 9.1 percent were white, 3.1 percent were Hispanic, and 13.8 percent identified as other. FUP families had an average of four children, and 15.7 percent had prior foster placement. There were no statistically significant differences between the groups at baseline.

The researchers obtained data from child welfare administrative records. They collected information from 36 months before and after random assignment. The researchers used intent-to-treat analysis at the family level to evaluate the effects of FUP on the rates of formal out-of-home placements. They did not conduct subgroup analyses.
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Fowler and colleagues (2018) examined the cost–benefits of the Family Unification Program (FUP) and found that the program generates an average savings of nearly $500 per family per year to the foster care system. Specifically, FUP families generated $41 per family per month in savings to foster care, which aggregated to $1,476 across the 36-month follow-up period, or $492 per family per year.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Fowler, Patrick J., Derek S. Brown, Michael Schoeny, and Saras Chung. 2018. “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 and Neglect 83:52–61.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Fowler, Patrick J., and Dina Chavira. 2014. “Family Unification Program: Housing Services for Homeless Child Welfare–Involved Families.” Housing Policy Debate 24(4):802–14. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

Fowler, Patrick J., and Michael Schoeny. 2017. “Permanent Housing for Child Welfare-Involved Families: Impact on Child Maltreatment.” American Journal of Community Psychology 60(1–2):91–102. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)
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Program Snapshot

Age: 4 - 7

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Home

Program Type: Wraparound/Case Management, Children Exposed to Violence

Targeted Population: Children Exposed to Violence, Families

Current Program Status: Active