Kids’ Voice, Child Advocates in contract talks after report cited cost overruns

With just three weeks before its contract with the city of Indianapolis ends, Child Advocates is trying to negotiate a subcontract with Kids’ Voice so it can continue providing volunteers and staff to advocate for youngsters in Indiana’s child welfare system. Meanwhile, a report questioned longtime contractor Child Advocates’ cost overruns.

Child Advocates’ attorney Paul Jefferson of McNeely Stephenson told Indiana Lawyer the two agencies are trying to figure out what a subcontract would look like and what terms would be included. The situation is evolving hour by hour, he said, but organizations are trying to avoid any disruption in service to youths who have been designated as children in need of services or are the subject of termination of parental rights cases.

“My focus is on trying to bridge the gap between the various constituencies and make sure children are served,” Jefferson said. “That’s the one thing we all agree on.”

Earlier this month, the city of Indianapolis Office of Public Health and Safety announced it was switching the Guardian Ad Litem and CASA contract to Kids’ Voice. Child Advocates had provided the services for nearly 40 years, but OPHS had concerns about “substantial cost overruns.”

The office noted Child Advocates’ 2020 contract had to be renegotiated twice. The second time was to extend the agreement to cover the costs for a four-month extension through April 2021, but in total nearly $3 million had to be allocated to cover overruns, which increased the budget to $8.8 million.

The professional services company Crowe Global was hired to do an assessment of Child Advocates’ accounting procedures. The firm submitted its final report to the city April 5. However, based in part on Crowe’s draft report completed in January and Child Advocates’ response submitted in February, the city decided to switch providers.

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

OPHS took over the contract with Child Advocates from the Marion Superior Court in 2019. At that time, the city had questions about the agency’s process and the 2020 contract was signed with the understand that an assessment would be conducted, according to Ellert.

Kids’ Voice was chosen as the new provider at the recommendation of the courts.

“The Marion Superior Court leadership, consisting of both judicial personnel and staff, recommended that OPHS make contract with Kids’ Voice based on Kids’ Voice’s work on family law matters, including matters with the juvenile division,” Ellert said.

Child Advocates has questioned whether Kids’ Voice can provide the services. The latter agency is not a certified CASA program and will be getting flooded with nearly 7,000 children to serve when the contract is switched at the start of next month.

Contacted by Indiana Lawyer, the Indiana Department of Child Services said in an email it had not been informed of any plans to change the GAL/CASA contract. It deferred questions to the Office of Court Services.

Leslie Dunn, director of the State Office of GAL/CASA in the Indiana Office of Court Services, was not made available for an interview by IL deadline.

However, Indiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said in a statement, “The State GAL/CASA office remains committed to helping the program that the city of Indianapolis contracts with to assist them in becoming certified and providing the voice for children involved in the court system due to allegations of abuse and neglect.”

In its assessment, Crowe reviewed Child Advocates’ policies and procedures, monthly invoices to the city and other supporting documentation. Crowe reported that in different areas of compliance and performance related to indirect costs, Child Advocates did not provide the required documentation to support its calculations.

Child Advocates rebutted Crowe’s observations and recommendations in a seven-page written response.

“It is noteworthy that CA’s expenses are and always have been reviewed annually by the Indiana State Office of GAL/CASA, Office of Judicial Administration in an agency certification process, yearly grant application process, and in quarterly and annual reports to said Office,” Child Advocates wrote in its response.

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