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City won’t renew contract with Child Advocates after report details issues with compliance and agreement

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The city of Indianapolis won’t renew its long-standing contract with Child Advocates to provide court-appointed special advocates for children in Marion County courts after an external review found examples of the organization not complying with the agreement, though the analysis also notes the agreement needs improved for clarity.

Child Advocates CEO Cynthia Booth disputed the findings in the analysis, which includes nine total observations related to compliance and improvements that could be made to the contract or management practices.

The Office of Public Health and Safety (OPHS) has managed the contract since late 2019. Child Advocates first entered into a contract in 1982 with Marion County Superior Court to provide GAL/CASA (guardian ad litem/court-appointed special advocate) services. A CASA represents children’s interests in the legal system.

The city’s contract with Child Advocates ends at the end of April, at which point Kids’ Voice of Indiana will take over.

What the analysis says

The analysis, conducted by Crowe LLP, examined a period of 10 months in 2020 and includes three instances where it says Child Advocates did not comply with the contract.

The claims:

1. Crowe couldn’t determine if the personnel expenditures Child Advocates invoiced to the city were accurate because the organization didn’t provide evidence for its calculations.

2. Crowe couldn’t determine the “reasonableness” of Child Advocate’s direct cost allocation method because the organization applied roughly the same percentage used to calculate personnel costs as it did to calculate indirect costs and didn’t provide evidence to support that methodology.

3. Child Advocates didn’t provide “supporting documentation” with its invoices as required by the contract. That includes submitting numbered expenses and explanations for increases in expense categories.

The analysis also includes six instances where it says the contract or management practices could be improved.

The claims:

1. The compensation limit in the contract is set at $5.4 million, or $4 per service day, but there is no documentation to explain the reasoning for that calculation. Child Advocates also doesn’t inform the city of its planned annual expenses.

2. The contract requires Child Advocates to include definitions for each expense category in its invoices but doesn’t specify what the expense categories are.

3. Crowe found 54 of 58 expenditures it analyzed from Child Advocates didn’t include a record of payment, meaning the organization provided invoices but not documentation showing it had been paid.

4. OPHS couldn’t provide all requested documents related to monthly invoices it received from Child Advocates.

5. The contract requires monthly invoices to be submitted in a timely manner but doesn’t specify what that means.

6. Crowe examined 58 expenditures and found 20 examples where it wasn’t clear and documented how the expense was related to the services Child Advocates provided for the city.

Read the full report below or download the PDF (download link below the report).

OPHS requested the review after it took over management of the contract to determine if Child Advocates “incurred reasonable costs in providing the agreed-upon services for OPHS,” according to the report.

OPHS said in a statement the findings in the report, along with conversations with “stakeholders,” factored into its decision to not renew the contract.

OPHS renegotiated the contract with Child Advocates twice recently, once in December 2020 to increase compensation to about $6.3 million from the original $5.4 million, and again in February to extend the contract through the end of April, which added another roughly $2.5 million in compensation.

“Given this sizeable overrun in costs from the initial $5.4M budget, OPHS felt that it was more critical than ever for CA to provide clear, thorough supporting information,” OPHS spokesperson Caroline Ellert said in an email. “As the Crowe documentation points out, CA was not able to satisfactorily substantiate the basis for a number of its cost calculations and expense items.”

Crowe interviewed Child Advocates management, OPHS personnel and the state director of the CASA program for its review.

Child Advocates disputes findings

Booth, the organization’s CEO, said she had only seen a draft of the report when she submitted a response that is included in the final version. Booth saw the final version of the report April 6, six days after she said she learned the city wouldn’t renew the contract.

Booth said she doesn’t believe OPHS’s decision to not renew the contract was because of the report since she didn’t have the final report until after the decision was made.

The report is dated Jan. 22, 2021.

Booth’s response disputes points in all nine of Crowe’s observations. Crowe also responded to Booth, which is included in the report.

Most of Booth’s responses — categorized by each point included in the report — say Child Advocates did provide Crowe with documents and evidence that Crowe says it did not.

That includes documentation to show how the organization calculates reimbursement amounts and an Excel spreadsheet of monthly expenses that has additional tabs to list the expenses in the way Crowe suggested.

“It appears that Crowe failed to open or review the tabs,” Booth wrote.

In its response, Crowe said the spreadsheet includes three tabs, and the tab Booth apparently alluded to only includes a list of vendors with a dollar amount per vendor listed under each expense category.

Crowe recommended Child Advocates adhere to the contract by providing details about expenses related to the CHINS (child in need of services) program and including a separate numbered list of expenses for “additional services.”

Crowe responded to each of Booth’s responses, except for those related to city record keeping and the issue about how timely Child Advocates should be with its invoices.

An uncertain future

Booth said she requested an extension through the end of the year to allow more time for a transition to Kids’ Voice of Indiana, but OPHS denied the request.

“I would say I am very concerned about what this means for children in our city,” Booth said in an interview.

Part of Booth’s concern is that Child Advocates is a majority-minority organization, she said, which helps ensure its staff and volunteers reflect the children they serve, and now its role in child welfare in Marion County is uncertain.

Child Advocates could still be involved by becoming a subcontractor for Kids’ Voice, which assumes responsibility for the county’s CASA program May 1, but it’s not clear if that will happen because Booth said she doesn’t know what the organization’s role would be as a subcontractor.

Booth said the organization is just starting to get details about a subcontract.

Lindsay Scott, president and CEO of Kids’ Voice of Indiana, said she wants Child Advocates to be involved as a subcontractor, though she also isn’t sure what that would entail because she’s waiting to get more details from the city.

Scott said OPHS approached the organization about taking over the service.

“Everyone’s shared goal is that children in Marion Country receive the services that they need in a way that they experience no interruptions,” Scott said.

Booth said another concern is Kids’ Voice doesn’t have enough staff or volunteers to manage the workload in Marion County, a factor that could be impacted by whether Child Advocates becomes a subcontractor.

Scott said she isn’t sure exactly how many staff and volunteers will be available at Kids’ Voice, which is in the process of becoming certified as a CASA provider.

“When we discussed taking this contract with the city, the priority was always and still is the children that need services in Marion County,” Scott said.

There are 4,200 GAL/CASA volunteers in 88 counties, according to the Indiana Supreme Court’s State Office of GAL/CASA. If you are interested in learning more about being a CASA, call 1800-542-0813.

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

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