You can’t get your kids back  until you have housing, and you can’t get housing until you get your kids back. The room was silent for a few moments as conference attendees process what they had just heard. Three “veteran” mothers who had successfully turned their lives around and reunited with their children shared the challenges faced when two systems workagainst them. As a mother, my heart was broken as I thought about what the children must have been going through as they lived in “limbo” for years as their mother fought for them.

A lack of affordable housing stock puts low-income families in precarious living situations. A 2008 survey of parents in Washington state’s child welfare system conducted by Partners for Our Children found that in the 12 months prior 45% of the parents had been evicted, had to move in with family or friends, or had been homeless (Partners for Our Children,2010). It is also estimated that 30% of children in foster care are placed primarily due to a lack of safe housing (Harburger and White 2004). What is even more shocking to me is that research shows that in many cases simply addressing a family’s housing need can keep the family together. (Torrico, 2009, Research ona Different Response).

 The good news is that things are changing. Recently, Child Welfare Housing Forums were held in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties; bringing child welfare service providers and the housing system together to talk about the problems and identify strategies and solutions. In each of the forum settings parent voice was at the core of the process, giving the narratives of these families as much power as the data presented. In the words of one of the mothers, “I’ll tell you whats REALLY happening!” It was good to hear that this combination of strong parent voice coupled with the right Child Welfare and housing system representatives at the table, new strategies and programs are being created to get to the core of the problem – helping parents in crisis access housing supports BEFORE they lose their children. Now, we just have to increase the amount of affordable housing stock in the region so parents working at low wage jobs can find housing…

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