Carroll child abuse unit seeks program manager

CASA restructuring follows audit prompted by interagency friction

May 18, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County unit that specializes in child abuse and sexual assault cases has started implementing changes to improve efficiency, but the key to a recommended restructuring will be filling a new position - that of program manager.

Jolene G. Sullivan, director of the county's Department of Citizen Services, said finding a program manager who will coordinate the many agencies that work in the CASA unit will take time. In the meantime, she said, the immediate need is for an administrative assistant for the unit.

The restructuring follows the release of a county audit on the CASA unit this year. The audit was prompted by the county state's attorney's office and its concerns about interagency friction and escalating overtime costs.

"I think whenever we do an audit review we apply the best practices," said county chief of staff Steve Powell. The county's auditors, he said, came up with recommendations that "we're now anxious to implement and continue to take forward."

Sullivan said that obtaining a better understanding of how other child advocacy units in the state are operated will help in finding a program manager. As a result, Sullivan plans to visit the Cecil and Harford county units within the next two weeks. She has visited the Washington County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program, which Carroll County auditors considered a model for its CASA unit because of its spacious, child-friendly environment.

The Washington County model also features on-site coordination of medical personnel, law enforcement, a prosecutor and program director.

The decade-old CASA unit was formed from a partnership between the Maryland State Police, which supervises the unit, and the state's attorney's office. It has evolved into a task force that includes sheriff's deputies, a Westminster police officer and several prosecutors. They work closely with victims' advocates, the county Board of Education, the Department of Social Services, rape crisis counselors and medical personnel at Carroll Hospital Center.

While the agencies have worked together, they have not been under one roof. Auditors and Sullivan think having the same location would make case follow-through more efficient.

Sullivan said that moving to a new location is a goal, but in the short-term, a room is being converted into a child-friendly interview area at the Department of Social Services, which is housed above the CASA unit in downtown Westminster.

"Right now we need to get the office stable and get it set up," Sullivan said. "We just need to get the system in place right now. Once we catch our breaths, we'll be in a position to look for future sites."

County auditors found that the demands of the growing unit made it difficult for CASA's state police supervisor to balance the investigations and prosecutions with administrative tasks, such as maintaining grants, training, equipment and recertification with the National Children's Alliance.

The auditors suggested hiring a program manager to coordinate the participation of the agencies and deal exclusively with noninvestigative procedures.

Sullivan said she is also working on a separate budget for the CASA unit, consolidating requests and grants that were being processed through individual agencies rather than through the unit.

County auditors Gary L. Horst and C. Lawrence Wiskeman also recommended that the CASA unit be pared down to five law enforcement investigators and one civilian investigator who would do double-duty as a social worker on noncustodial cases. One civilian investigator employed through the state's attorney's office resigned in the fall while another is scheduled to resign next month.

The auditors concluded that personnel under this reorganization would be able to handle the unit's 225 cases annually.

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