Grand Forks County officials are scrambling to find a space to supervise juveniles who commit minor offenses after Lutheran Social Services, which has provided those services for about 30 years, announced its closure suddenly last week.
Through its Attendant Care program, Lutheran Social Services provides up to 96-hour supervision of as many as four children and teens who commit non-felony offenses, such as running away, curfew violations and shoplifting when parents can’t be located. Attendant Care is meant to be a jail diversion program for youth offenders.
Lutheran Social Services will continue to provide those services until a new space is found, and no children will be left on the street in the interim, emphasized Bridgie Hansen, administrator of the Grand Forks County Juvenile Detention Center. She expressed hope to have the unused downstairs units of the juvenile detention center renovated and ready for use within four to six weeks -- what she described as a breakneck pace.
But though they plan to eventually offer the same services -- possibly with the same team -- as Lutheran Social Services, Hansen is worried what the immediate future of the program might bring.
“My big worry is when we have a kid that’s run away from home or something or who’s on the street where do they go? That Attendant Care site was always there for them,” Hansen said. “For law enforcement, it might create a lot of different situations, but we’re trying to quickly remedy that, and we’ve got a lot of good people working on different possibilities.”
Grand Forks County Commissioner Tom Falck, at the commission’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19, moved to allocate up to $50,000 to renovate a space in the detention center, below where minors who commit delinquent offenses are held, to create a place for those in Attendant Care. The commission will need to meet again to authorize expenses that go beyond that threshold. Given the urgent nature of the situation, the county will solicit bids from local contractors who are able to begin the work as soon as possible.
“Now, we're up against the wall, and that's really our only available option, so I think we're going to have to move at breakneck speed, so to speak,” Falck told the commissioners.
The Attendant Care location will be on the main floor of the detention center, in an area that used to house adults waiting for pre-sentencing. The renovations will include a new door, bathroom facility, sheetrock, paint and flooring. Falck said he was hopeful that some or all of the money the county paid to LSSND for Attendant Care services would eventually be returned, but he was not optimistic that it would be in time to pay for the construction. According to Falck, the county paid LSSND about $40,000 per year for those services.
Hansen said he hopes to hire LSSND Attendant Care staff members to continue in their current positions, but it remains unclear whether they will be county employees or employees of a yet-to-be-determined supervising agency. Federal dollars will pay employee salaries, as well as the cost of meals and supplies, while the county will pay for administrative and overhead costs.
At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Hansen said, bringing all juveniles to the detention center would simplify the process for law enforcement officials and reduce the number of trips they need to take to get them to the appropriate facility.