- Policy & Research
- About KHI
May 4, 2012
NEWTON Officials for a group that helps victims of sexual assault and domestic violence said today that they have pulled out of contract renewal talks with Kansas welfare officials because of new state requirements they believe could be harmful to the people they assist.
“This has not been an easy decision,” said Joyce Grover, executive director with the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. “We’re saddened to see this contract coming to an end. But we believe safety requires it.”
Since 1998, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has paid the group to administer a statewide counseling program for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence who apply for public assistance. The program is called OARS, an acronym for Orientation, Assessment, Referral, Safety.
The program is meant to ensure safety for the victims, reduce barriers to their employment and promote self-sufficiency.
Grover said that SRS officials for the past 18 months have been adding requirements to the contract that advocates consider discriminatory, unjust and potentially harmful.
Of primary concern, she said, was a more recent SRS requirement spelled out in the new contract proposal that would make all the victims – almost all of whom are women – undergo a psychological evaluation.
“That’s blaming the victim,” said Charlotte Linsner, who runs Options, a domestic violence shelter in Hays. “If you were robbed while sitting in your office, would we blame you for sitting in your office? I don’t think so.”
Mandating psychological evaluations, she said, sends the wrong message to the women and could be used against them in divorce or child custody proceedings.
“It’s not best practice,” said Stacey Mann, executive director of the YWCA in Wichita. “If someone needs or wants an evaluation, then by all means it should be made available. But making it a requirement assumes that because someone is a victim of sexual or domestic violence, it’s their fault. I mean, you have to wonder why SRS doesn’t require male batterers who apply for public assistance to have a psychological evaluation.”
Angela de Rocha, a spokeperson for SRS, said department officials didn't learn until today how concerned the group was about the requirement for psychological evaluations.
She said SRS would never do anything to mistreat victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.
But, she said, "I don’t know how any rational human being could object to providing counseling to people who’ve been abused,” she said. “It would be abusive to not provide them with counseling.”
She said proper counseling couldn't be done without the psychological evaluations.
Grover said the coalition's efforts to resolve its concerns with SRS had been unsuccessful.
“Once the RFP (request for proposals on the contract) went out, our conversations with SRS have been limited to our asking questions and their responding,” she said. “But we’ve not been able to sit down with them and say, “Hey wait a minute, this isn’t best practice.’ That’s not been allowed through the RFP process.”
Coalition members also objected to new contract requirements that they:
• Require victims to participate in therapy.
• Collect and share information about the victims - unrelated to domestic violence or sexual assault - with SRS officials.
The new contract also would require that 90 percent of victims in the program be employed within 18 months and would limit each individual's participation in the program to 18 months.
Grover said SRS officials wrote the request for proposal without discussing the new requirements with the coalition.
De Rocha said SRS officials had been dissatisfied with the coalition's previous performance on the contract.
“They have consistently refused to provide us with basic corroborative information – things like how many clients they’re serving, how many services they’re getting and whether they’re showing up for their appointments,” de Rocha said. “They’ve not been accountable.”
The coaltion withdrew from the contract negotiation on Tuesday.
On Thursday, SRS officials announced that on July 1 the agency would be contracting directly with local sexual assault and domestic violence programs instead of working through the coalition.
SRS’ current contract with the coalition is for $1.7 million. The new contracts will be for $2 million.
But de Rocha said that would mean a $600,000 net increase for the local programs because the $300,000 that had gone to the coalition for administering the contract would now go directly to services.
She said that news had been well-received by local program officials.
“We called a lot of people yesterday and no one objected to more money,” she said.
But local program directors, all of whom are coalition members, said on Friday that they were a long way from embracing the new contracts.
“I am not going to put people at risk,” said Laura Patzner, who runs the 16-bed Family Crisis Center in Great Bend. “I will not choose to do a contract for something that I feel is not appropriate and quite simply would be more dangerous.”
“We would have to look at what the contract might include,” said Janee Hanzlic, executive director at the 45-bed Safehome shelter in Johnson County. “But if it includes these same requirements, it would not be something we would agree to do.”
Grover said she did not know how to respond to de Rocha’s claim that the coalition had not been adequately accountable to SRS.
“All I can say, really, is that we’re required to provide quarterly reports that have satisfied SRS in the past. We’ve done that,” she said. “We have a person on staff who does site visits to make sure we’re in compliance with the contract.”
Various legislators learned about the coalition's decision to abandon the contract late Thursday afternoon.
“Whenever a system that's been working is upended for no apparent good reason, I’m concerned” said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. “We need to look into this further.”
“I think it’s interesting that we keep hearing how government needs to privatize, that the private sector is more efficient, and yet here we are putting the government in charge of a program and spending an additional $300,000,” said Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Before this gets implemented I’d like for all the parties to sit down and talk about this,” Owens said. “I’d be willing to facilitate that.”