06/15/09 — Cuts hurt Guardian ad Litem program

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Cuts hurt Guardian ad Litem program

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on June 15, 2009 1:46 PM

State budget cuts that have eliminated mileage reimbursement for volunteers in the Guardian ad Litem program has led to four quitting and others taking on fewer cases.

The program helps young people who have become entangled in the court system, with the aim of turning their lives around.

District Administrator Colleen Kosinski said the cuts are understood but could wind up costing the state more in the long run if the end effect is youths who would otherwise have received help being left on their own.

"The court system has made that choice, and I understand their reason for making it, because the cuts had to be made. But it's just so hard."

Other potential volunteers have said they want to wait out the economy's downturn, Ms. Kosinski said.

"They're saying maybe they need to take a little bit of a break right now, until they can see if they can (financially) do this," Ms. Kosinski said. "We've had some volunteers decide that they just can't afford to volunteer (right now.).

"I mean, we understand that, but we really can't do anything about it."

One of the volunteers was very upset about the loss of gasoline reimbursement, she said.

"One in particular was very, very angry -- they said 'I'm donating all my time, and donating to protect these children. There's got to be money somewhere else.'"

Despite the cuts, the program is in better shape financially than it was when lawmakers first began considering cuts. The program was one that would have suffered major budget cuts had the initial proposals been approved, she said.

"The original cuts were looking terrible," Ms. Kosinski said. "We would have at least lost one staff person, maybe more.

"Right now, they have reworked the budget and taken our budget off the table -- it's not great, but for us it's looking better than it did," the district administrator said.

She noted, however, that the budget process is not complete, and the Guardian ad Litem's office is "not out of the woods yet."

Budgets for the family and drug courts were also up for initial cuts, and for the meantime have been spared, Ms. Kosinski said.

Unrelated cuts to other service programs could have a direct impact on how many children are served by the Guardian ad Litem's office, the administrator said.

But other cuts concern the district administrator -- especially a freeze on N.C. Health Choice, health insurance provided to children of parents who have jobs, but cannot afford insurance.

"A lot of these kids are going to end up in psych hospitals instead, and there's not enough of those around.

"So these kids are going to be without placements, possibly causing problems to the community or problems to themselves, which is really, really concerning to us," she said.

Lawmakers in Raleigh did not come by themselves to the decision to spare the Guardian ad Litem program, Ms. Kosinski said.

"Our volunteers really reached out to our senators and representatives, and said 'Hey, don't do this.'"