Welfare Reform and the Family Violence Option
Recent welfare reform, at both the federal and state level has changed the face of welfare delivery in our nation. We have moved from a system of entitlement to one where assistance is temporary and work is expected as a condition of receiving benefits.
The passing of the Federal legislation known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which included the Family Violence Option (FVO), was incorporated into the NYS Welfare Reform Act of 1997.
Family Violence Option
New York State strongly supports this initiative and included Family Violence Option legislation in the NYS Welfare Reform Act of 1997. New protections for temporary assistance clients who are domestic violence victims became effective April 1, 1998.
The FVO includes procedures for screening and assessment of domestic violence. In addition, it created the Domestic Violence Liaison position to assess for and if necessary, grant temporary waivers of public assistance requirements which may place domestic violence victims at further risk or prevent them from escaping the abuse.
Local District Requirements
New York's Welfare Reform Act requires local social services districts to:
- Provide information on available domestic violence protections and services to all applicants and recipients of temporary assistance via the Universal Notification Handout and "Palm" Card.
- Provide all adult clients with a Domestic Violence Screening Form at the following time:
- Application interview
- Recertification interview, and
- Anytime thereafter, at the client's request.
- Communicate to clients that disclosure of domestic violence and completing of the screening form is voluntary and confidential, unless child abuse is disclosed.
- Refer clients who identify themselves as victims of domestic violence via the screening form to a specially trained Domestic Violence Liaison.
Referring Clients for Domestic Violence Assessment
As mentioned, when clients come into the local district DSS to apply or re-apply (known as Recertification) for temporary assistance, they will be given the Voluntary Domestic Violence Screening Form along with the Common Application and other related forms. Completion of the DV Screening Form is not mandatory and does not effect the eligibility determination. In other words, it has no effect on determining if and when benefits are received.
If a client chooses and completes the screening form and responds affirmatively, he or she will be referred to a Domestic Violence Liaison for assessment. A client can decide to complete the screening form at any time.
The most typical sources of the referral will be:
- The Temporary Assistance Unit
- The Employment Unit
- The Child Support Enforcement Unit
The Temporary Assistance and Employment units can provide the screening form directly to a client at any time. The Child Support Enforcement unit will only discuss completing the form with the client, but then direct her to the Domestic Violence Liaison for screening and assessment. If the client does not complete the screening form or checks "no" on the form, the eligibility process continues as usual, in compliance with all the appropriate program requirements.
Note: All other assessments (i.e., alcohol and substance abuse) are on hold (suspended) until the domestic violence assessment is completed, but the application process continues to move forward.
Parameters of the Family Violence Option and Waivers
The FVO allows local social services districts to grant temporary waivers of:
- Employment and training requirements;
- Child support enforcement and paternity cooperation requirements;
- Alcohol and substance abuse assessment and treatment requirement;
- Minor parent living and education requirement;
- Lien from real property;
- Other program requirements, as needed.
Waivers are a temporary delay of program requirements that are time limited and renewable if deemed necessary. Initially, these waivers are granted for a mininum of 4 months. Waivers need to be reassessed every six months. After that, the need for a waiver must be reassessed and extended, modified or terminated as appropriate.
As determined by the Domestic Violence Liaison, waivers can be granted in cases where compliance with program requirements would make it more difficult for the client and/or her children to escape from domestic violence or subject them to further risk of domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Liaison will assess whether the domestic violence claim is credible and whether and how domestic violence impacts the applicant's ability to meet temporary assistance requirements.
Definition of a Victim
According to social services regulation, and for the purposes of providing waivers, a victim of domestic violence is defined as an individual who has been subjected to the following by a family or household member:
- Physical acts that result or threaten to result in physical injury to the individual
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual activity involving a dependent child
- Being forced as the caretaker relative of a dependent child to engage in nonconsensual sexual acts or activities
- Threat of or attempts at physical or sexual abuse
- Mental abuse
- Neglect or deprivation of medical care
Key Job Tasks and Responsibilities of the Domestic Violence Liaison
NYS Law and Regulations require local districts to retain or employ trained Domestic Violence Liaisons who are primarily responsible for completing the following job tasks:
- Assess the credibility of the assertion of domestic violence based upon information and corroborating evidence;
- Assess the safety of the victim and the victim's dependents and their need for services and other supports;
- Inform a referred victim about domestic violence and the options for protection, services and other supports;
- Inform a referred victim about their rights and responsibilities with respect to waivers of public assistance program requirements;
- Gather facts regarding the extent to which domestic violence is a barrier to meeting public assistance requirements, including employment requirements and the need for waivers of such requirements;
- Determine the need for waivers when compliance with public assistance requirements would place the victim and/or the victim's children at greater risk of harm or make it more difficult to escape from the abuse, and make recommendations for granting waivers or grant waivers;
- Periodically reassess the individual's domestic violence circumstances and modify, terminate or extend the waiver(s);
- Establish and maintain a list of, at a minimum, available domestic violence services and a relationship with the providers of the services;
- Coordinate activities with other case managers and examiners within the local SSD;
- Facilitate emergency safety planning with victims in a crisis situation, as necessary; and
- Collect and maintain data/record keeping.
Assessment, documentation and follow-up are major job functions, while planning and coordination are functions that will be carried out as needed.
Domestic Violence and Temporary Assistance Clients
Research suggests that domestic violence is prevalent among women seeking
public assistance. This may be because women often seek public assistance as
a means of escaping the abuse or ending the violent relationship, or simply
because the public assistance client base represents a good cross-section of
the American population.
Prevalence of Abuse
A study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services showed that 20% of the women interviewed for public assistance experienced abuse in the 12 months prior to the study by a:
- Boyfriend, or
- Former boyfriend.
Throughout their lifetime, 64.9% of the women surveyed were identified as victims of domestic violence. Additionally, 56% of the women interviewed reported calling the police because of being hurt or threatened by a current or former partner.
Effects of Domestic Violence on Temporary Assistance Compliance
Experts agree that the profound mental and physical effects of domestic violence often interferes with a victim's efforts to achieve temporary assistance program goals: employment and self-sufficiency.
Studies show that for a high percentage of women receiving public assistance, domestic violence is a factor in their lives. A 1996 study conducted by the Center for Impact Research (formerly Taylor Institute) asserts that up to 80% of women receiving public assistance may be survivors of, or are attempting to escape, violent relationship. Research also shows that abusers:
- Often sabotage the victims' efforts at self-sufficiency.
- May escalate their violent tactics as victims achieve job readiness goals.
Out of fear of jeopardizing their own and their children's safety, these realities may cause domestic violence victims receiving temporary assistance to:
- Quit jobs and drop out of training programs, and
- Be non-compliant with various other temporary assistance program requirements such as child support enforcement.
Work and Safety
Meeting temporary assistance work requirements can jeopardize the client's safety and the safety of her children in a number of different ways. Examples include:
- The former partner could learn of the woman's employment from a friend or relative, and follow the woman from the work site to a shelter or the new home.
- The current partner could threaten to hurt the women or her children if she leaves the home to conduct a job search, attend training, or work.
Child Support and Safety
Compliance with child support enforcement requirements can pose safety risks to the woman and her children. Although most victims of domestic violence want to pursue child support in some cases safety concerns may prevent this action. The Massachusetts study clearly points to some of the problems that can arise as a result of typical Child Support Enforcement activities. For example, Child Support Enforcement efforts may make it possible for a former partner to discover her location, or her former partner may threaten to seek custody or unsupervised visitation, if she files for support.
Substance Abuse and Safety
In many cases, partners may use alcohol or drugs as a means of keeping victims in the relationship and under control. Victims could be forced to use drugs or drink alcohol or face serious consequences. In such a case, temporary assistance requirements related to drug and alcohol screening, assessment and subsequent treatment could pose a safety risk to the victim. Some examples of this include a violent partner who sabotages the victim's treatment or harasses or threatens her if he discovers she is in treatment. In addition, she may be reluctant to go into treatment if it means leaving her children with her partner.
Information about victims of domestic violence collected as a result of procedures for domestic violence screening, assessment, referrals and waivers must not be released to any outside party/parties or other government agencies unless the information is required to be disclosed by law, or unless authorized in writing by the public assistance applicant or recipient.
Employees of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, local districts or any agency providing Domestic Violence Liaison services may have access to client identifiable information maintained by a Domestic Violence Liaison or by the welfare management system (WMS) only when the employees' specific job responsibilities cannot be accomplished without access to client identifiable information. Further, unless necessary for carrying out the responsibilities of their job, client information should not be shared or discussed with others in the agency.
Specific information that the Domestic Violence Liaison must safeguard includes information related to:
- Domestic violence screening
- Assessment of credibility and need for waivers
- Granting of waivers
- Emergency safety planning
- Service and community referrals
Additionally, because of safety concerns, it is especially important that local districts maintain client addresses or shelter locations, and phone numbers in the strictest of all confidence. To safeguard confidentiality, Department regulations continue to require that the street address of a residential program for victims of domestic violence be kept confidential.
Allard, M.A., R. Albelda, M.E. Colten and C. Cosenza. 1997. In harm's way? Domestic violence, AFDC receipt, and welfare reform in Massachusetts. A report from the University of Massachusetts, Boston (McCormack Institute)