Flap over state contract for sexual, domestic violence victims

05/04/2012 5:00 AM

05/05/2012 7:32 AM

The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence said Friday it will stop working with the state to help provide services to hundreds of victims because requirements in a proposed state contract are harmful or insensitive to those being served.

For example, the proposal would require psychological examinations that could be used against survivors in child-custody and divorce matters, the coalition said.

SRS disagreed, saying that the changes would not harm clients and that any counseling sessions would be kept confidential.

The coalition has an annual contract with the state that expires in June and subcontracts with local agencies to provide services to about 450 victims statewide.

The coalition’s announcement came a day after the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services said it will bypass the coalition and offer $2 million in grants directly to community domestic violence centers. The amount offered is an “effective increase of $600,000 for local programs,” SRS said.

SRS Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said the SRS will get funding to local programs “so these services will continue to be supplied without disruption.”

However, some program directors said they would no longer work with the SRS in the program because of the requirements.

The coalition pledged that it will work to help make sure that the victims, who also receive financial assistance, continue to get help.

SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said the coalition has not provided basic information about the scope of the program. “There has been no accountability at all,” de Rocha said, calling the proposed contract an attempt to “impose some accountability. And this is their push-back,” she said of the coalition’s announcement.

Coalition executive director Joyce Grover disagreed, saying that SRS was not being fair and accurate. Grover said SRS is overly focused on accountability, to the detriment of providing services.

The program at issue is known as OARS, which stands for Orientation, Assessment, Referral and Safety. In 13 years, the program has helped thousands of people statewide, Grover said. The program puts advocates in local SRS offices to help domestic violence and sexual violence victims who receive financial assistance. According to the coalition, the main goals are increasing safety and self-sufficiency.

SRS’ current $1.7 million contract with the coalition ends June 30. Of the $1.7 million, “they keep $300,000 for themselves and then the dole out what’s left,” de Rocha said. “They don’t directly provide any services to victims.”

Grover said the amount the coalition gets is about $250,000. The coalition monitors the program and provides training and technical services, Grover said.

De Rocha said victims don’t care whether the coalition is involved. “They (victims) are in a very personal crisis. They just need the services to be provided to them, to be able to move on with their lives.”

In a statement Grover read at a coalition meeting in Newton on Friday, she said the state’s proposed language for a new contract would make it “more dangerous for survivors and fundamentally impossible to administer in accordance with our core principles of safety and justice.”

De Rocha said, “I don’t understand how it would endanger them.”

Grover said the proposal also would:

• Require advocates to report confidential information, violating federal rules and endangering victims.

De Rocha countered: “We haven’t asked them for any details of anybody’s domestic violence situation.”

• Require a “ ‘corrective action plan,’ showing a disregard for the myriad of difficulties facing survivors, and insinuating that survivors need to be ‘corrected’ or ‘fixed.’ ”

De Rocha said, “They’ve misconstrued it. It refers to the overall way we are helping them (victims) and addressing their needs; we’re not correcting them.”

• Set a “lifetime limit of 18 months of services, ignoring the reality of survivors’ lives and that domestic violence perpetrators often pursue and sabotage survivors’ lives for years after the relationship has ended.”

De Rocha said clients need to be reassessed if they are not self-sufficient or emotionally stable after a “set, reasonable period of time. We’ve got people who have been in this program, like, five years. Clearly that’s not working for them. It’s not working for the state either. They are horribly traumatized, but some of them transcend that and some don’t, and we’ve got to focus on the effective methods of helping them.”

Grover said that although members of the coalition are united in their concerns, it is up to the local agencies to decide if they want to work with SRS.

The Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center and Catholic Charities are the two Wichita subcontractors who serve victims under the OARS program. Kathy Williams, executive director of Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center, said her agency last year provided services under the program for 140 people; the current caseload is 15.

Williams said she couldn’t see how her agency could continue to work in the state program, given the concerns about the SRS requirements.

Catholic Charities executive director Cynthia Colbert said in a statement: “Catholic Charities is committed to providing domestic violence services in the best interests of the women and children served through our Harbor House shelter and advocacy and community outreach programs.” She said the agency is evaluating the impact of the coalition’s decision.

Laura Patzner, executive director of Family Crisis Center Inc., which serves 10 counties in the Great Bend region, said her agency could no longer take part in the OARS program as the situation stands now.

“I’m not going to put people at risk for dollars,” Patzner said.

In Thursday’s statement, Gilmore, the SRS secretary, said the agency is not surprised that the coalition “is backing away from providing services” in the domestic violence programs.

She said the coalition has been “struggling to meet our new accountability standards for several months.” The coalition, which was the only bidder, gave a bid that “did not meet even minimum performance standards set in the request for bid,” Gilmore said.

Grover, the coalition director, said SRS has continually changed its requirements.

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