Owens House prepares for axe

A child advocacy program in Shelby County will feel the pain of the budget axe if Gov. Bob Riley’s proposed state funding cuts are approved.

The governor’s proposed budget following the defeat of his tax and accountability package &uot;zero funds&uot; The Owens House of Columbiana and all other advocacy centers across the state.

That’s the word from Helen Rardin, Owens House executive director.

She said the program receives $114,000 from the state’s general fund budget and $20,000 from the education trust fund budget for a prevention program in kindergarten through fifth grades, which she said would also be cut under the governor’s proposal.

That amounts to a cut of $134,000 from a total budget of about $325,000, according to Rardin.

&uot;It will cut about 39 percent of our budget,&uot; Rardin said.

She noted that one child advocate position has not been filled since that person took another job.

But she said she may have to let another counselor go as well.

In addition to a reduction in counseling services, Rardin said, among other cuts facing Owens House are parent counseling for non-offensive parents and a support group.

Owens House helps victims schedule medical exams, obtain financial assistance, provides parenting skills education and offers crisis intervention, counseling and trauma therapy.

Rardin said Owens House will also have to dip into its savings to provide the $23,422 match for a $93,691 grant recently received from Gov. Bob Riley.

She said money was raised as the result of four annual Blue Ribbon Motorcycle Rides.

The grant was announced by Riley before the Sept. 9 tax vote which failed by nearly 70 to 30 percent statewide.

According to the governor’s office, the grant was awarded from funds made available to the state through a program of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Riley designated the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to administer the grant.

John Harrison, ADECA director, notified the Shelby County district attorney and founder of the advocacy center, Robby Owens, of the grant approval. Owens is also president of the organization’s board of directors.

While Rardin said the matching funds represent the spending of Owens House savings, she said the grant will help keep the doors open for forensic interviews and counseling services.

As to the future, Rardin said after six months, Owens House will have to re-evaluate its ability to remain viable.

Rardin, said she went to the Statehouse on Monday &uot;to beg.&uot;

According to information provided by Owens House, services are currently provided at no cost to individuals, families or the Department of Human Resources.

Following is a list of services provided by Owens House with associated costs between September 2002 and August 2003:

914 scheduled counseling sessions ($70 each) provided at a cost of $63,980; 145 forensic interviews ($70 each) provided at a cost of $10,150; 25 extended forensic evaluations (four to eight sessions at a minimum cost of $70 per session) provided at a minimum cost of $7,000 for four sessions and a maximum cost of $14,000; 97 parent conferences provided; 20 non-offending caregivers support group meetings; 15 Hero’s children’s support group meetings; 30 parenting classes provided

(two hours each for a total of 60 hours parent training); and 11 MDT (monthly Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings) with a total of 336 cases discussed and each meeting lasting two to four hours with an average of 20 professionals in attendance.

These are joint meetings between Owens House staff, the district attorney’s office, the Department of Human Resources Child Abuse and Neglect Unit and investigators from law enforcement.

Also from Sept. 1, 2002, to August

31, 2003, the following number of victims received support from Owens House:

* crisis counseling – five.

* Follow-up contacts – 1,730 .

* Group treatment/support – 181.

* Information given or referred for assistance – 67.

* Criminal justice support – 79.

* Personal advocacy – 31.

* Telephone contact – 1,398.

* Miscellaneous support services provided – 614

During fiscal year 2002-03, The Owens House received funding as follows:

* $111,754 from the state for support and operations;

* $98,622 from ADECA for victim assistance;

* $10,000 from the National Children’s Alliance for counseling and supplies;

* $15,000 from the Blue Ribbon Ride, a fund-raising effort by the organization;

* $20,000 from the Shelby County School System for school counseling and after-school groups;

*&160;$7,200 from the Shelby County Commission of operations;

* $13,000 from private donations, bank interest and maturing CDs for operations/special needs; and

* a $50,000 grant from the United Parcel Service Foundation for construction