Controversy erupts over domestic violence contract

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Several Kansas legislators have strongly criticized the state's social welfare agency for proposing changes to the contract with service providers for domestic violence victims, which could interrupt distribution of about $2 million in federal aid.

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has proposed requiring domestic violence victims to undergo psychological evaluations before they receive services. It also wants to limit lifetime services to 18 months and have 90 percent of victims hold jobs after 18 months.

The proposals prompted The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence to drop negotiations last week on the contract, saying the changes would jeopardize clients' safety. None of the coalition's 29 partners, which serve 540 clients, has signed contracts with SRS, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Joyce Grover, director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said Thursday that putting job requirements and time limits on services would create problems because the needs of victims are complex and change based on the danger of their situation.

"Our goal is to ensure quality and consistency in the way survivors are treated," Grover told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, according to The Lawrence Journal-World.

SRS Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who didn't attend Thursday's hearing, said the agency failed to meet basic accountability standards.

In response to the coalition's action, SRS officials said they would try to negotiate pacts with local centers to provide services after July 1. And it said it would increase the amount of funding from $1.7 million to about $2 million.

Some members of the budget committee said Thursday they were disappointed with the SRS' proposals.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, questioned documents that indicated the agency wanted domestic violence victims who receive aid to try and create heterosexual relationships.

"We're encouraging the fact that two-person families are better for children," said Kathe Decker, SRS director of economic and employment support.

"What would you do? Set up some sort of dating service?" said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.

Decker said she wasn't sure how domestic violence counselors and support personnel would encourage two-parent households.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said setting an 18-month cap on services in Kansas under the federally financed program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families doesn't consider the often unpredictable violence in some homes.

"Sometimes people have issues for years with their batterers," Schmidt said.

Decker said the state was trying to help victims better their lives by encouraging them to get off welfare and into jobs.

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said the proposals appeared to conflict with the best interest of Kansans and she suggested that SRS should consider whether domestic violence programs should be financed by a different part of the state budget.

"TANF may not be the most appropriate set of funds for this," Francisco said.

Grover also said the requirement for victims to undergo evaluations is unfair because those evaluations can sometimes be used against them in court proceedings.

Decker said the evaluations would help determine whether counseling or other support was effective.

"I understand the process of getting out of these situations," said Decker, who divorced an abusive husband.