Child agency severing ties with national group

Entities involved with a Garfield County center for neglected and abused children are moving to sever ties with a national organization that had helped it get off the ground.

The board of the Childhelp River Bridge Center in Glenwood Springs has decided to break away from Arizona-based Childhelp because of concerns that apparent financial problems at Childhelp could lead to the center’s closure, said board vice chairman Lou Vallario, who is also Garfield County sheriff.

Concerns have arisen because of the failure of Childhelp, a nonprofit organization, to pay rent to the county for the building it is using and its failure to return messages from the county regarding renewing its lease and service agreements.

“There was absolutely no response from the national entity in Arizona,” County Manager Drew Gorgey said.

County commissioners recently directed the county to pursue termination of the lease. Gorgey said he believes Childhelp may have since made a lease payment but that the county still has the right to terminate the lease without cause as long as it gives 30 days notice. And, he said, there is no signed lease or service agreement for this year between the county and Childhelp.

Vallario said it’s his understanding Childhelp has laid off some staff at its Arizona office.

A Childhelp official at that office, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that there are discussions going on regarding the status of the Glenwood Springs location, but declined to comment further immediately, saying the organization would have more to say later.

The Glenwood facility opened in December 2007 and provides advocacy, treatment and investigation services for abuse and neglect victims, as well as support for non-offending family members. It served 171 children in the 2010 fiscal year.

Nationally, Childhelp is involved with foster care, group homes, residential treatment facilities and other services in several states.

Vallario said the local center has operated under something of a franchise relationship with Childhelp. He said the local board appreciated the national group’s help with starting the operation and with dealing with things such as staffing and accreditation.

But the local board decided it was better to move away from involvement with Childhelp to avoid the possibility of a shutdown of the local facility, which could make it hard to reopen, he said.

Vallario has agreed to temporarily hire the three local staff members as Sheriff’s Department employees until a local nonprofit can be formed to hire them.

The county built the building that houses the local center. The amount it currently pays Childhelp for services is equal to what it charges for the rent.


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