An Exploration into the Characteristics, Service Needs, and Child Protection Involvement of Families Accessing Services through the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority

Summary

Homeless families and families involved with child protective services (CPS) often share common parental risk profiles including, low education level, unemployment, poverty, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, mental illness, and a lack of social support. Children and families served by both of these service systems are arguably the most vulnerable members of our society. Research has long linked both homelessness and child maltreatment to poor health, mental health, safety, educational, and employment outcomes for children, youth, and families. Mitigating and ultimately preventing these detrimental outcomes is the shared mission of both the homeless service and child protection systems.

The purpose of this evaluation is to use linked, administrative data to better characterize the demographics, services, and child protection involvement of families receiving homelessness services from the LA County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) between 2013 and 2016, and to identify differences between Transitional Age Youth (TAY) parents (i.e., parents between the ages of 18 & 24) and their older, parenting and homeless counterparts.

Overview of Findings

A linkage between LA County homelessness service records and statewide child protection records dating back to 1998 revealed:

  1. The number of parents accessing homelessness services in LA appears to be increasing. Between 2013 and 2016, the number doubled from 2,486 to 4,687. The same pattern held true for TAY Parents, which increased from 494 to 763.
  2. Parents were predominantly Black and Latino, female, with young children. TAY Parents were disproportionately Black, female, with fewer, younger children.
  3. A full two-thirds (65%) of homeless families had historical or concurrent CPS involvement, but, for the majority of these families, first CPS-involvement occurred before first LAHSA encounter.

Given that CPS involvement most often preceded first LAHSA encounter, the results underscore the importance of providing trauma-informed services, and the value of cross-system coordination in the provision of those supports. They also highlight opportunities for prevention, as prevention-oriented family support and strengthening could have helped to resolve family problems at an earlier stage, potentially preventing later entry into homelessness. Finally, given that relatively few families had open child protection cases or children removed from the home, these results should spark a conversation about the appropriate CPS response.

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