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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Child Advocates backs out of contract talks for court services

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Child Advocates rejected an offer to become a subcontractor with Kids’ Voice of Indiana, which will soon take over as the city’s provider for court-appointed special advocates for children in Marion County courts.

That means Child Advocates won’t represent children as a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, for the first time since 1982. Kids’ Voice officially becomes the city’s CASA provider May 1.

Paul Jefferson, Child Advocates’ attorney, said the organization’s main issue with the offer from Kids’ Voice is that it would have left Child Advocates as the county’s only certified CASA provider while limiting its control as a subcontractor.

“We just didn’t feel like we could both have the certification and give up control,” he said.

Kids’ Voice President and CEO Lindsay Scott said the organization is in the process of getting its certification from the state and that certification status doesn’t affect it taking over the county’s CASA provider contract and providing those services.

The state’s Office of GAL/CASA awards funding for local services, but the funds go to the courts, not the specific nonprofit that provides the services. (GAL stands for guardian ad litem.)

Jefferson said Child Advocates also took issue with how quickly Kids’ Voice wanted to transition services, similar to what the organization said when the city announced it wouldn’t renew the contract in early April.

The board voted unanimously to reject the offer, Jefferson said, and Child Advocates will now try to figure out what its role is moving forward. This should be considered the end of contract negotiations, he said.

Scott said Kids’ Voice presented what it considered to be good for the transition period and is now working on bringing staff and volunteers from Child Advocates to limit any disruptions in service.

“Kids’ Voice was ready to go on May 1. That was always the plan,” Scott said of not having Child Advocates as a contractor. “It doesn’t really change anything.”

Child Advocates had a contract with the city to provide CASA services since 1982. The city decided to not renew the contract after an external review found examples of the organization not complying with the agreement.

Child Advocates disputed those findings.

The Office of Public Health and Safety, which has managed the CASA contract since 2019, said the contract also became too expensive.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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