- Policy & Research
- About KHI
May 10, 2012
TOPEKA Several members of the Senate budget committee today objected to a decision by officials at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to alter the agency's contract with an advocacy group that oversees services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“I think (SRS) is throwing up barriers,” Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said during a morning meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Her comment was directed at Kathe Decker, director of economic and employment services at SRS.
Decker disagreed, saying the changes were meant to help “people move beyond their own barriers.”
The contracting changes prompted the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence to announce last week that it would not renew its contract with SRS. The current contract runs through June 30, the end of the current state fiscal year.
The changes included requiring victims of sexual assault and domestic violence who apply for public assistance to:
• Undergo a psychological evaluation;
• Participate in therapy;
• Be employed within 18 months of receiving assistance;
• Exit public assistance within 18 months.
Joyce Grover, the coalition’s executive director, said the requirements put the program’s counselors in a position of telling victims what they have to do to continue receiving public assistance rather than helping them rebuild their lives.
Many victims, she said, needed more than 18 months to achieve independence.
“We just decided that this was a program that had gone in a different direction and that it would be better for us to part ways instead of us trying to keep putting the square peg in the round hole and not be particularly successful at it,” Grover said.
Decker said SRS now plans to contract directly with sexual assault programs and domestic violence shelters throughout the state.
But it’s too early, she said, to know how many programs will sign the new contracts.
Asked what would happen if many of the programs decided against participating, Decker said she didn’t know.
Grover said it was unclear how many of the 29 programs – each of which belongs to the coalition - would agree to the contracts.
“All I can tell you is that we had a conference call earlier in the week and there were a lot of people who said it would be difficult for them to go along with what SRS is wanting,” Grover told KHI News Service. “But there were some who said they wanted to look at the contracts before making a decision. Each program will make its own decision.”
The new contracts also include language that directs the programs to promote two-parent families and “out-of-wedlock pregnancy prevention.”
Decker defended the provisions.
“We’re just encouraging the fact that two-parent families are better for children,” she said. “It’s based on individual circumstances and is not a blanket…across-the-board, everybody’s the same.”
When asked by senators to explain how a counselor would encourage someone who had fled a violent relationship to weigh the benefits of marriage, Decker said she didn’t know.
“I’m not a trained person to do that,” she said.”
Asked how many people who’ve been battered have “healthy family relationships” after returning to their abusers, Decker replied: “I would say not very many.”
Decker, 59, said she understood the difficulties faced by abused spouses from her own personal experiences. She told the committee that she became pregnant when she was 16, had a baby when she was 17, and was abused and demeaned by her husband.
“I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to the grocery store by myself,” she said.
The marriage ended, she said, after her husband fired a shotgun 12 times at her and her daughter.
“This was all back in the 1970s,” Decker said.
Decker defended limiting victims’ public-assistance eligibility to 18 months, saying she was aware of a woman who had been in the program more than 10 years and had told social workers that “she didn’t have to do anything because she was a victim of domestic violence and the trauma of that had caused her not to be able to work. But at the same time she was bragging about being on the Topeka women’s roller derby team."
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican, objected to Decker’s portrayal of the woman.
“Were you there?” Schmidt asked.
“I was not, but we have notes,” Decker said.
Decker and Angela de Rocha, director of communications at SRS, said the coalition had not been accountable.
“SRS has had to repeatedly ask for information, such as how many people were being served, what services were being provided,” de Rocha said. “At times, it has taken months” to get answers.
Kelly said de Rocha’s criticism smacked of “the pot calling the kettle black,” noting that she had requested information from SRS “all session long and I’ve either not gotten it or it has taken endless amounts of time.”
De Rocha replied: “You should have asked me.”
The committee took no action, but the contracts are likely to be discussed during upcoming budget deliberations between the House and Senate. The House, in its budget plan, approved a provision that would allow SRS to distribute the grant money directly to local programs. The Senate did not include that provision in its budget bill.
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Find more about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 783-2529.