Housing is a major barrier to reuniting foster kids with their parents

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Los Angeles County is expanding a foster care pilot that targets homeless parents and families in unstable housing.

The program provides short-term housing help to parents who could be reunited with their children, but for lack of a home. It also provides housing assistance to parents whose children are at high risk for removal. 

Lack of housing is a growing issue for families involved in the child welfare system, said Ed Fithyan, division chief at the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.

"Housing in L.A. is very difficult and people are stretched thin, especially the families we work with who are struggling often with other factors," he said. 

The problem is statewide. In a letter to state legislators, a group of organizations, including the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Californians for Safety and Justice, and Housing California, advocates said roughly 30 percent of children in foster care in California cannot be reunited with their parents because the family "lacks safe, stable housing."

 "Housing remains one of the largest barriers to reunification," they wrote.

In response, the state authorized $10 million worth of "Bringing Family Home" grants to start and expand housing programs for such families, with about $2.5 million of that now headed to Los Angeles County.

The county has also invested its own resources in its housing program, planning on spending over $9 million to housing for family reunification over the next three years.

L.A.'s program officially got up and running in a pilot phase three years ago, but it's now poised to expand, under the county's comprehensive Homeless Initiative. DCFS plans to offer housing assistance to 200 families in the next year and 400 the year after. 

The additional funds from the state will allow DCFS to also provide assistance to 390 families who are still together, but live in unsafe or unstable housing. 

"We want to keep those children, hopefully, home with their parents, so we can house the parent and stabilize the families," Fithyan said.

The grant kicks in January 1, 2018.

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