Domestic violence victim advocates withdraw bid with SRS

? Kansas’ leading organization that advocates for victims of sexual and domestic violence has parted ways with the state welfare agency, saying new requirements imposed by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration on an assistance program would put victims in greater danger.

Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said Friday the new requirements “violate the best interests of survivors of sexual and domestic violence.”

Laura Patzner, executive director of the Great Bend Family Crisis Center, was more blunt. “I am not going to put people at risk for dollars. I will not choose to do a contract with someone that I feel is not appropriate and would quite simply be more dangerous,” Patzner said.

The dispute is over a contract between the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence to provide services to low-income victims.

The coalition has had the contract with SRS since the program’s inception in 1999 and has provided assistance to about 17,500 victims.

The coalition withdrew its bid for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

SRS Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said she was “not surprised KCSDV is backing away from providing services” under the program.

“KCSDV had been struggling to meet our new accountability standards for several months,” Gilmore said.

“We tried to work with them, but in the end the bid that KCSDV submitted did not meet even the minimum performance standards set in the request for bid, and they were the only bidder. As a result of their withdrawal, we have decided to take the program in-house, manage it ourselves and provide direct funding to the community programs,” she said.

The amount of grant funds is $2 million, according to SRS, and is provided by the federal government.

Grover disagreed with Gilmore’s assessment and said the coalition withdrew its bid because of several new contract requirements from SRS.

One would require a victim undergo a psychological evaluation, she said. Grover said the coalition was willing to agree to make referrals for those who would benefit by an evaluation, but making the evaluation mandatory in all cases was unnecessary and could be harmful in some instances.

“The basic assumption that comes out of that requirement is that there is something wrong with the survivor,” Grover said. She also said the evaluations could be used unfairly against victims in divorce or child custody proceedings.

Another requirement said that 90 percent of those served had to be employed within 18 months, Grover said. She said this ignored the myriad of problems that many survivors faced and hurdles to employment.

In addition, there is a requirement that would force advocates to report typically confidential information, Grover said, and establish a “corrective action plan.” That insinuates survivors need to be “corrected,” or “fixed,” Grover said.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said the SRS action was troubling. “I have serious concerns about dismantling a system for service providers for victims of domestic violence that has been in place for years and has proven to be effective.”

Statewide, the coalition and its subcontractors serve about 1,000 people each year.

Joan Schultz, who is the executive director of The Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence, said the organization would have to assess whether it would contract directly with SRS for the program, which is called OARS and stands for orientation, assessment, referral and safety.

“It is an important program to ensure survivors are able to look at all their options,” Schultz said. In Lawrence, OARS provides $85,000 and pays for 2.5 positions that help abuse victims.

The Willow Center has a shelter that can serve 29 people. It served 137 women and 114 children last year.

Schultz said she would be happy to discuss with SRS officials “about how to move the OARS program forward and to keep these services in the city of Lawrence.”

She added, “I will have to take a look at any contract offer, and the board of directors and I will decide if this contract is mission driven for The Willow. I believe SRS has the best interests of survivors in mind, and we will work with them to the best of our ability.” Schultz also added she believed the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence withdrew from the program “in good conscience.”

Schultz said the SRS evaluation requirement of victims was “very problematic.” She added, “Any time you have a state requiring services from a professional, like a mental health professional, then you are going down a slippery slope.”

Sarah Jane Russell, who is executive director of GaDuGi SafeCenter in Lawrence, deferred questions about the impact of the funding issue to The Willow. But she added, “There is an urgency for all people to sit at the table and talk truthfully about where we are going with victims services in this state.”