Loss of grant funds a sour note for Harmony Visitation Center
WILLMAR -- A 35 percent budget cut for the Harmony Visitation Center will mean the loss of safe and secure opportunities for children to have court-ordered visitation with non-custodial parents.
It could also increase the violence kids see during child-care exchanges between their feuding parents.
The center is facing a $50,000 shortfall after it was turned down for a major foundation grant that was intended to replace a two-year state grant that ended in October.
Faced with declining revenues from investments as a result of economic crisis, the foundation "cut millions" from their usual grant allocations, said Elaine Bolland, director of Harmony Visitation Center. "We weren't even considered."
As a result, the center has made deep cuts in staffing and programming that will affect young children and their families, she said.
Harmony Visitation Center serves as a neutral location for such things as the transfer of a child from one parent's care to another or for visitation with a parent who does not have custody. Families may have been referred by the court or social services agencies, or parents may voluntarily seek services.
The center has a business office in the Centre Point Mall in Willmar but uses the day-care facility at the county's Health and Human Services building for evening visitations, when day care is not open. The center offers daytime visitations in a child-friendly room in the basement of the county courthouse.
As of Oct. 1, one Harmony Visitation Center staff position was eliminated and weekend visitation times were cut in half.
More reductions will go into effect Dec. 1.
When all the cuts are implemented, two part-time staff positions will be gone, Bolland and the assistant director will have hours and pay reduced and office supplies will be "going bare bones."
The biggest hit, she said, is that 40 visitation sessions per month between children and parents from fractured or healing families will be eliminated.
"Our concern is for the kids," said Bolland. "They're all so special. They get comfortable with us and they trust us. We want to be able to be there for them."
There would have been even more visitations eliminated if staff cuts and pay reductions weren't made, she said.
As it is, people using the service, whether court-ordered or voluntary, will feel the pinch.
People scheduling visits for December are already finding many of the time slots filled, said Bolland.
Without the center supervising court-ordered visitations, she said relatives may have to step in and provide the supervision, which can be a tough role for family to fill.
For county cases, family services employees will be seeing their workload increase.
So far in 2009, the center provided 772 hours of visitation service for Kandiyohi County Family Services. That's time that county social workers did not have to spend organizing and supervising visitations or exchanges of children between parents, said Family Services Supervisor Kathy Nelson.
Realizing the value that the Harmony Visitation Center provides, Kandiyohi County Commissioners began offering ways to provide additional funding during their meeting Tuesday.
Commissioner Richard Falk said if there's any reserve money at the end of the year, the board could provide additional funding. "If this is a critical need, we may have funds to help them," said Falk. "We can't just let it fold. That'll cost us a lot of money."
Commissioner Richard Larson suggested the commissioners give up a month or two of the per diems they receive for attending meetings and donate that money to the center.
The county may also look for vacant office space in the Health and Human Services building to offer the center, which would eliminate the need to pay rent for office space at the Centre Point Mall.
Bolland said she's continuing to look for additional grant opportunities so that the program can be maintained. "We're begging for donations wherever we can," she said.
Commissioner Harlan Madsen said there will be more programs that rely on grants that will be cut in the future. He said one prediction is that 35 percent of the current nonprofit organizations will not be in existence two years from now.