Anchorage center to prevent child abuse shuts down temporarily

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Anchorage Center for Families has temporarily shut down most of its operations for three weeks while officials with the child abuse prevention agency try to unravel a financial tangle that's left the agency running in the red.

Center officials say they discovered within the past month that expansions at the center last year apparently outpaced the center's roughly $3.9 million budget.

The cash flow crisis triggered this week's decision to shut down while the board of directors takes stock of finances and gets the center back on track, said Kristi Holta, center spokeswoman.

''At this point we don't expect any intentional mismanagement, but we haven't ruled anything out,'' Holta said. ''It's probably going to take us a while to get to the bottom of this.''

Founded in 1972, the center serves more than 5,000 clients a year. Its programs include a preschool for severely emotionally and mentally disturbed children and the Intermission Crisis Nursery, a refuge for children whose parents are afraid they'll become abusive. Staffers also provide family counseling on a sliding scale.

The state provides most of the funding for the center, with additional money from grants, United Way and internal fund raising. An average of 10 to 15 children a day attend the nursery at the center's main offices near East High School and also in Mountain View. About 28 kids a day attend the preschool program in Mountain View.

The center last year added the Mountain View crisis nursery and moved several programs to new locations to accommodate staff increases.

''The need is so big and the demand for organizations like the Center for Families to increase services is ongoing,'' said Dennis McMillian, president of United Way of Anchorage.

Center officials say they still have no idea what caused the financial tailspin. The board last month brought in a financial adviser to sort through last year's records.

''We're all devastated by this,'' said Christine Levy, who has served on the center's board for five years. ''We certainly didn't think that it would come to this.''

The center employs about 100 full- and part-time staffers. Many will go on three weeks of unpaid leave on Friday when the closures take effect, Holta said.

The center board unanimously decided to shut down some programs in an emergency session Sunday. The decision was shared with stunned staffers at their regular meeting Wednesday morning.

Not all programs will close Friday, according to Holta. The center plans to run scaled-back versions of services not provided by anyone else in the community, including the nursery and preschool. The center's 24-hour crisis hot line also remains open.

The state Division of Family and Youth Services, which pays for 20 beds in the two nurseries, may launch its own investigation.

The sudden closure is very strange, said Theresa Tanoury, DFYS director.

''It is rare and it is puzzling. Hopefully we'll find out what happened,'' Tanoury said.

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