Funds will be used to add four employees

The Knox County Council on Tuesday gave Denise Swink, executive director of the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program, permission to spend a six-figure grant aimed at helping provide more children with services.

But it wasn't without warning.

“Every time we (receive) a grant, that's always a positive thing,” council president Bob Lechner said. “But there's always a little weariness that comes with it, too.”

Swink last month announced that she had secured the county's first Victims of Crimes grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute totaling just under $192,000.

It's enough, she told the council Tuesday, to hire four full-time staff members — one case coordinator and three staff advocates.

Lechner's concerns stemmed from using the grant money to add staff members — who may not have a job once the grant monies run out.

“Grants are great,” Lechner said, “and they're encouraging, but if it goes away, it could be a different story.”

But Swink said the funds are meant specifically to shorten their weight list of children in need of services. Currently, she said, there are more than 130 kids. The grant funds, she has said, could reduce that by as much as 70%.

“We have a tremendously long wait list,” she said. “We don't have enough volunteers.

“Our hope is to be able to serve every child, and this is a way to get our wait list down.”

The council, however, wasn't quick to approve the use of the funds, although they eventually

As Swink looks to hire these four new employees, Lechner urged her to make the situation clear. They may or may not have a job next year, he pointed out.

“The people taking these jobs need to be made aware,” he told her. “Because certainly if this grant goes away, it's very possible these four people will not be kept on.”

Swink, however, is confident she can secure the grant for future years as well; in fact, when she writes it again next year, it would be for a 3-year period.

And many other CASA programs, she said, have looked to this funding source to meet staff needs.

She's also planning to attend a “sustainability workshop” soon where she will learn the skills necessary to “keep this grant going,” she said.

Both she and Superior Court I Judge Gara Lee, whose court oversees the CASA program now, urged the council to officially accept the funds. One former employee, Lee said, is ready to come back on board and could hit the ground running, shortening the wait list by as many as 20 kids almost immediately.

The grant funds became available on Oct. 1, so every day without their approval is money wasted, she said.

Council members, too, asked about any needed match for the grant and whether their current office space, located inside the Veterans Affairs Office at 112 N. Seventh St., was adequate for another four full-time employees.

Swink said the grant allows for the use of volunteer hours to be used in place of a financial match, and most of the four additional employees, she said, will work from home after being issued county equipment.

The grant, too, covers the costs of their benefits and travel expenses as well.

“Keep us informed on updates, the number of kids served,” Lechner said to Swink, requesting quarterly reports at the least. “The services for children, that's what we're interested in. Let's see what kind of results we see.”

The CASA program moved under county management, specifically Knox County Superior Court I, a year ago.

It had operated under the umbrella of Child and Family Services for more than 20 years. The move was inspired by tightened restrictions on CFS programs, potentially affecting state funding.

Amid a shortage of CASA volunteers, in June, Swink went before members of the county council requesting an additional full-time staff member — currently she has three part-time and three full-time employees. They denied her request and told her to include it in her proposed 2020 spending plan; they would consider it then, council members told her.

This grant, however, will largely meet her staffing needs without any additional money from the county.

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