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Monthly Archives: October 2012

State audit finds flaws in handling of domestic violence shelter funds

By Tracy Seipel
tseipel@mercurynews.com

As they gather Friday for the 19th annual Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council Conference, hundreds of participants — from domestic violence shelters to law enforcement agencies, from judges to doctors — might be surprised to learn that their well-meaning efforts over the years were critically hampered by a lack of coordination and accountability from some of the very county officials who support their efforts.

A recent state audit revealed that $715,000 in state-mandated funds collected by the county since 1995 and meant to be distributed to local domestic violence shelters sat in an account virtually forgotten by officials until the oversight was accidentally discovered in 2010. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the money was ultimately distributed to shelters.

“I’m still inflamed — I’m still so angry not knowing this money was sitting there,” said Kathleen Krenek, executive director of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, the county’s largest shelter for battered victims. She said that money could have been spent to prevent layoffs, to pay for rent or supplies — even toilet paper — to help keep the program going.

“The lesson here is: Don’t trust things on the surface,” Krenek said. “And let’s make sure to put in safety mechanisms to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

But according to the state audit — which reviewed 135 domestic violence cases in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and Santa Clara counties — these kinds of oversight problems are happening throughout California and without further clarification by the state Legislature, counties and courts may continue to misdirect domestic violence funds.

“More than anything, the audit speaks to the need to clarify with counties what the statute actually says, and the need to create a way to document whether or not courts are actually collecting the fees and if they are not, why not,” said Camille Hayes, a spokeswoman for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that works with almost 100 service providers around the state to prevent domestic violence.

County Executive Jeff Smith said the county has since moved the monitoring and oversight of the fund to the Office of Women’s Policy, which is regularly in touch with domestic violence shelters, to ensure “this will never happen again.”

“It’s not uncommon that when you have funds that are paid by programs that cross departments that there’s confusion about how they should be spent,” said Smith, adding that no money was “diverted inappropriately.”

Still, he acknowledged, “we don’t like the fact that this happened, and we are unhappy with the delay.” He emphasized the money has been distributed to the shelters to provide important services.

The state audit focused on a November 1994 state law called the Domestic Violence Probation Fee, which requires anyone convicted of domestic violence crimes and sentenced to probation make a minimum payment of $400 as one of many terms and conditions of their probation. (The amount was just increased to $500 by Gov. Jerry Brown.)

When the law took effect in 1995, Santa Clara County officials said those fines were being collected and some were being distributed by the county’s Social Services Department.

By 2004-05, according to the audit, the county’s Probation Department became aware of the money, and sought authority over the funds. It asked the county counsel’s office if the money could be used to pay for a domestic violence advocate, which was allowed that year, as well as from 2007-11, for a total cost of $209,000 over five years.

But the audit said the funds were not supposed to be used for that purpose, which was meant solely for local shelters who could use the money for anything they wished.

Krenek said the county’s four domestic violence shelters believed they were receiving the “probationer fees” all along — about $200,000 annually — but then noticed a drastic drop to about $50,000 annually in recent years. She said they were told the number of domestic violence cases had fallen and that many probationers, because of the economy, could not afford to pay their fines.

Coincidentally, Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. had requested an audit of all county special funds in 2010, and when the list revealed the $715,000 that had been held in a special fund for domestic violence shelters, Krenek and others were alerted and asked the county for an explanation.

Now that the mistake has been addressed by the county, the shelter leaders say they’ve heard from others around the state facing similar problems.

“What happened was an injustice,” said Cynthia Hunter, director of the Domestic Violence Advocacy Consortium of Santa Clara County. “It may not be a lot of money to the county, but it certainly was to us.”

The audit can be read at www.auditor.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2011-121.pdf.

Next Door’s 2012 Annual Report


Dine Out Against Domestic Violence in October

Help support Next Door by dining out during the month of October.

Download the flyers you are interested in:

Wednesday, Oct. 17 – Baja Fresh

Monday, Oct. 22 – Old Spaghetti Factory

Thursday, Oct. 25 – Sweet Tomatoes

Friday, Oct. 26 – Poor House Bistro

Monday, Oct. 29 – Sonoma Chicken Coop

Kaiser Permanente Partners with Next Door in New Healing Families Pilot Project

Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Next Door in the creation of its new Healing Families Pilot Project and providing $35,500 in funding for the project. Next Door’s Family Support Services is developing a new Healing Families Pilot Project that will provide a health-focused support system for women and families experiencing and exposed to domestic violence. The project expects to offer Healing Families Workshops in Spanish and English to 225 mothers and children, approximately 90 families, helping mothers and their children impacted by domestic violence to re-establish family bonds and healthy habits. Through these workshops, Next Door will address the damage done to family bonds due to batterer manipulations; improve the physical, behavioral, emotional, and mental health of women and children who have been impacted by DV; and reduce overall family stress. We are grateful for the more than a decade of support that Kaiser Permanente has provided Next Door. Thank you Kaiser!

 

 

 

Blue Shield of California Foundation Makes Two-Year Core Support Grant to Next Door

Blue Shield of California Foundation has donated $40,000 over two years to support Next Door’s general operations. This multi-year, core support grant will allow Next Door to meet ongoing needs such as maintaining its Emergency Shelter, fill gaps in programmatic funding, and develop services to address the evolving challenges that face domestic violence victims and their families. As the state’s largest private funder of domestic violence services and prevention, Blue Shield of California Foundation is dedicated to ending domestic violence in California. Blue Shield Against Violence provides flexible, core support funding to domestic violence service providers so that they are empowered to determine and address the priorities of their organizations.

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