Home and tree iconFamily Keys Pilot Puts Families First

In Wisconsin, “housing insecurity” is selected as a removal reason for one in ten children who are separated from their families. Housing challenges are also prevalent for many families in the child welfare system, even when it is not designated as a primary safety concern. During the pandemic-related eviction moratorium in 2020, approximately 30% less children were separated from their families due to housing insecurity. In other words, when housing was stable (due to policy mandates), less children were taken into foster care. 

Family Keys is a pilot approach to serving families who are experiencing housing instability and involved in the child welfare system. Last year, the Division of Safety and Permanence partnered with La Crosse, Marathon and Wood Counties to address this issue. Those teams, along with a partner from Casey Family Programs, began to consider a new approach to supporting families in their communities. Each community team drafted their own unique proposal to “do what it takes” to stabilize families experiencing housing insecurity in their community. Exciting local innovations – like landlord risk mitigation supports and additional emergency funding for individuals who did not otherwise qualify for current housing assistance – began to surface as county teams were able to focus on local needs and filling those gaps. 

In just one year, Family Keys has served approximately 30 families across the pilot communities. Over 90% of the families served reported that they felt they had a choice in their housing solutions. Many of the counties report having raised awareness about this problem in their community, resulting in more partnerships with other service organizations, businesses, law enforcement, local landlords and other housing providers. 

The most rewarding aspect of this approach has been hearing the stories of how flexibly meeting family needs is having life-changing impact. Child welfare professionals have reported this approach has allowed them to find other ways to keep children safe when an out-of-home placement would have otherwise been necessary. Some families have been able to reunify more quickly when housing was the last identified barrier for their family. These experiences truly change the trajectory of a family’s experience with the child welfare system. Family Keys is identifying simple, cost-effective ways to meet family’s needs and potentially reduce the amount of time they are involved in the child welfare system. 

The Family Keys teams have been nominated for national awards and were invited to the Corporation for Supporting Housing Summit in Philadelphia to present on their innovative approach earlier this year. You can hear more about this work at the Child Welfare and the Courts Conference in September. Watch for more updates and reports on the outcomes of this work in 2024.