CASA of Grant County is recovering from a perfect storm that included skyrocketing needs and 100 percent staff turnover.
Since Hanna Hinman became executive director, 15 court-appointed special advocate volunteers have been trained to meet needs in Grant and Harney counties that have doubled in just two years.
According to her presentation to the Grant County Court on Dec. 12, the number of children in foster care in Grant County increased from 20 in fiscal year 2016 to 40 this year. In Harney County, the number increased from 29 to 76, she said.
A number of factors explain the dramatic increase, Hinman said. The state Department of Human Services’ move to a new policy called differential response separated many children from parents and siblings.
On top of that was the opioid epidemic that trended nationwide and a sudden influx of people with domestic troubles in Harney County, she said. Making matters worse is a current shortage of foster parents.
Hinman has been successful in training up a new batch of CASA volunteers to represent the children’s needs, but some court cases are old and complicated and beyond the abilities of the new advocates.
She is also facing a potential budget shortfall. Hinman projects $134,600 in revenue this year, with 60 percent from state and federal sources, 24 percent from community and foundation grants, 12 percent from fundraising events and 4 percent from individual donations.
She expects the state CASA organization will go to the legislature next year to lobby for increased funding. In the meantime, she asked the county court to provide $6,700, or 5 percent of the local CASA budget. She said she will ask Harney County for the same.
Commissioner Rob Raschio spoke highly of the CASA volunteers and commended Hinman for her work. The court agreed to prepare a budget resolution on her request for their next meeting on Dec. 19.
In other court news:
• Grant County Victim Assistance Director Andrea Officer had good news for the court. Funding for a victim intervention specialist was lost when the county was not awarded a federal Violence Against Women Act grant.
A total of $42,120 in funding for the position was accessed instead from the federal Victims of Crime Act through the state using a $5,000 match provided by the county court.
The position will be filled by Kimberly Neault, who has served as a victim advocate for two years. She has a bachelor’s in sociology and community health and more than 75 hours of specialized training.
• The court agreed to approve a lease agreement with Western States Equipment for a Caterpillar road grader that Roadmaster Alan Hickerson called a “midnight moonlight special” and “smoking deal.”
If the county meets the requirements of the lease agreement for five years, Western States will buy back the nearly $200,000 grader at $4,000 less than what the county paid for it. The court expressed interest in acquiring a second grader if one becomes available.
• The court turned down a memorandum of understanding with the Social Security Administration in which the county would inform the federal agency about people receiving Social Security payments while incarcerated in exchange for a small payment.
Calling it a “bounty on the mentally ill,” Raschio noted that people who were in jail awaiting trial would lose benefits before they were found guilty. Lost benefits would translate into lost housing and lost payments to landlords, which could affect the local economy, he said.
• The court approved providing $10,000 to John Day for 911 dispatch service. Raschio noted that because of funding the city was able to get from the legislature to pay for local 911 for two years, the county saved $110,000.