November 12, 2010

State uses grants, initiative to advance domestic violence programs

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By Barbara Pash
For MarylandReporter.com

The state’s domestic violence programs are expanding with $4.3 million more in federal grants allocated by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, and funds from other legislative initiatives to bring services and programs to domestic violence victims across the state.

In addition to the $10 million in federal funding that the Office of Crime Control and Prevention received in 2010 for any victims of crime, executive director Kristen Mahoney said they got $2 million in annual federal STOP Violence Against Women grants, and $2.3 million as a one-time federal stimulus STOP Violence Against Women grant. The two new funds were distributed to 108 programs.

Jeanne Yeager, executive director of the Midshore Council on Family Violence, calls the crime control office’s funding “critical” to her agency’s programs. The nonprofit, which operates in Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Dorchester and Caroline counties, uses the funds to provide Spanish-speaking staff at social service agencies and hospitals and to hire a retired police officer to sensitize local police departments.

Similarly, Dorothy Lennig, director of the legal clinic at House of Ruth Maryland, said the crime control office’s funding was key to starting an arrangement with the administrative arm of the court system of Maryland, making attorneys trained in domestic violence law available.

“I don’t know of any other state that has this relationship,” Lennig said. House of Ruth Maryland’s legal clinic and the Women’s Law Center have this arrangement in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Federal grant money isn’t the only new resource domestic violence victims are receiving. Last month, Mahoney said, the crime control office rolled out its new $250,000 system to provide automatic electronic notification of protective orders, which came from legislation passed in 2009.

Domestic violence issues are moving more into the legislative forefront, with two domestic violence bills about removing firearms when protective orders are issued passing during the 2009 legislative session. Mahoney credits Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s testimony for driving the bills to pass.

“Everyone says domestic violence is a bad thing. But for the lieutenant governor of the state to testify [is remarkable]. These bills had come before the General Assembly before and had not passed,” said Mahoney.

There is more happening as well. Last month, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed an executive order establishing the Maryland Domestic Violence Health Care Screening and Response Initiative.

A hospital-based program is being set up at Prince George’s Hospital Center, the fifth such program in the state. The program is receiving $250,000 for two years, $160,000 from the state and the rest from private and nonprofit partners.

Moreover, the executive order specifically encourages other health-based facilities to apply to the crime control office to start similar programs. “This is a new area for us,” said Mahoney.

There are critics of the state’s funding levels and priority placed on domestic violence.

“Not enough is being done,” said Carole Alexander, a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work who spent 25 years as executive director of House of Ruth Maryland.

Alexander pointed to a 2009 National Census on Domestic Violence Services where Maryland providers painted a distressing picture of unmet needs: 38 percent reported not enough funding, 33 percent not enough staff, and 25 percent no available beds or funding for hotels for emergency shelter.

Alexander acknowledged that state funding has created awareness and brought services to communities where none existed before. But she said that federal funding to the state is not being used as intended. It has become foundational money for core services, rather than funding for innovative programs, she said.

She also said Maryland has been slow to adopt anti-domestic violence legal measures.

“A number of other states have legislation to protect victims that is far stronger than we have,” she said.

Jodi Finkelstein, the vice chair of the Governor’s Family Violence Council and former executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, said that while domestic violence nonprofits would like to get more money, how well they do depends on the level of support they receive from local and state governments.

When Finkelstein ran the center, she said more than 65% of its funding came from the state agencies and Howard County government. In 2010, when the economic downturn left the center’s budget $44,000 short, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman increased funding to the center to compensate.