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Understanding risk frameworks

  • Your service might be the first place a person impacted by domestic or family violence contacts for support
  • Understanding risk is an important part of responding well
  • Risk frameworks contain a staged process for responding to sexual, domestic and family violence

What are risk frameworks?

Risk frameworks have been developed to help professionals provide an integrated response to disclosures of domestic and family violence.

Workers and agencies can find it beneficial to use a particular framework to guide their practice. A number of evidence-based risk frameworks have been developed in Australia, which include tools for screening, assessing risk, safety planning and risk management. While adopting a framework can help guide practice, assessing risk is specialist work and requires particular skills and knowledge. Not every worker is expected to implement a risk framework, but all workers can benefit from knowing about risk assessment approaches. A part of this is recognising and responding to the 'red flags' that signal when risk to women and children is high. Training in the use of risk frameworks from qualified training providers is recommended.

Understanding risk

Understanding risk is an important part of responding  appropriately to disclosures of domestic and family violence.

Risk frameworks contain a staged process for responding to disclosures of  domestic and family violence. All workers should familiarise themselves with their organisation’s risk framework and the key risks of domestic and family violence they refer to. Training in the use of risk frameworks and tools from a qualified training provider is recommended.

The first step is screening, to identify that violence is occurring. The process continues by asking some general questions about the presence of risk factors and the level of fear the woman may be experiencing for herself or the safety of her children. This is followed by a full and comprehensive risk assessment, best undertaken by specialist domestic and family violence services. Safety planning needs to happen after each stage of the process and is part of helping to manage risk. 

Screening, risk assessment and safety planning tools form the basis of responding to domestic and family violence. It’s important to understand that these tools are linked and should be seen as part of an ongoing response process. They should not be used as stand-alone tools or documents, instead they should support the approach outlined in the frameworks.

Tools for understanding risk

  • Screening is an informal process that aims to open up a conversation about domestic and family violence. It should create an atmosphere in which the person using the service feels supported to discuss what is happening for them. Screening can improve the rate of disclosure
    • See the Screening content for more information on this step
  • Risk assessment is more in-depth and systematic than screening. It should be used when domestic or family violence is suspected or reported. Risk assessment tools provide a structured way of finding out about the risks women and children may be facing when experiencing domestic or family violence. While an understanding of the process is beneficial for all workers, a full risk assessment should only be carried out by a specialist service
  • Safety Planning can help improve the safety of a person living with violence or who has recently left a violent situation. Safety planning needs to take into account a person’s individual situation, including diversity factors

Knowing what the evidence-based risk factors are does not mean that all workers should do risk assessments. What it does mean is that everyone who encounters domestic and family violence in their work should understand the general issues around risk so that they can take appropriate action. That action might be referral to a specialist agency that can respond with a detailed risk assessment, safety plan and support. In other instances the best course of action might be calling the police.

Risk frameworks

Each state and territory in Australia has processes for risk screening and assessment. The governments of Victoria and Western Australia have frameworks for screening and risk assessment based on the qualifications, experience and sector of workers. Becoming familiar with these documents is a useful way to gain an understanding of risk and safety. The frameworks can be used in many different work environments.  

Services can use these models as a starting point for developing an approach to risk screening and assessment. Where a state or territory does not have a framework, training with a specialist domestic and family violence training provider can also help with developing responses to domestic and family violence that take risk and safety into account.

The two frameworks are listed below with a brief description and links to the resources.

Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF)

The Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF) is also known as the Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework. It was developed in Victoria to guide common approaches to assessing risk where domestic or family violence is present. The CRAF has been an important tool to help to build an integrated system and to standardise responses of  services across Victoria. It is used in a diverse range of specialist and mainstream settings.

The framework promotes:

  • A shared understanding of risk and family violence
  • A standardised approach to recognising and assessing risk
  • Appropriate referral pathways and information sharing
  • Risk management strategies that include ongoing assessment and case management

The framework includes:

  • A practice manual 
  • Fact sheets 
  • Links to training
  • Screening protocol
  • Risk assessment tool

Visit the Department of Human Services for more information on the framework.

Common Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework

In Western Australia, the Domestic and Family Violence Common Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework (CRARMF) is used. Now in its second edition, it was developed for use by all government agencies and community sector services. It promotes a consistent and collaborative approach to identifying and responding to domestic and family violence. The CRARMF is based on the Victorian model and modified for the Western Australian context. It addresses some of the particular needs of Western Australian women and children including access to the specific service system and strategies when living in remote areas.

Visit the Department for Child Protection and Family Support for more information on the framework.

Understanding screening

  • Screening is an informal process that aims to open up a conversation about domestic and family violence
  • It should help the person using the service feel supported to discuss what is happening for them
  • If you don't have a lot of experience responding to sexual, domestic or family violence, our Introduction to responding page is a good place to start

Supporting disclosure

Talking about domestic or family violence requires trust. Initial disclosure may not be to specialist counsellors or service providers. A person may talk about their experiences with a health professional, midwife or remedial therapist. It could be a teacher, hairdresser or someone else with whom that person already has a trusting relationship.

Sometimes people will disclose to a service that they have experienced domestic or family violence. Other times, the violence is revealed after a service has screened, or initiated a conversation about their experiences and history.

Regardless of how a person discloses their experiences, it is important to respond to the disclosure appropriately. Responding well means that clients can feel safe and services can meet their needs for support and assistance.

Disclosure should always:

  • Be validated and supported respectfully
  • Be responded to with appropriate action

Someone who discloses domestic or family violence needs to feel believed, supported and not judged. There is no 'correct' way of reacting to violence or abuse.

It is important to convey to the person you are supporting that:

  • They are in no way responsible for the abuse or violence against them
  • Only the abuser is responsible for the abusive behaviour
  • They can be supported in any choices they make about what to do
  • They have strengths and knowledge they bring to this process

Disclosure is a very big step and if a person is not believed and supported, or if they don’t get the help they need, they may be hesitant to seek help again. 

It is highly recommended that services working with people at risk of domestic or family violence participate in Training and professional development to support screening and referral. Find a training provider in the Service directory.

What is screening?

Screening is a systematic way of providing the space for a person to talk about domestic and family violence. It usually involves asking clients about their experiences. This might include asking whether there is domestic or family violence in their life or if they have felt unsafe in their relationship. Screening is also known as 'safety checking' in some workplaces. Routine screening for experiences of sexual assault is not usually recommended for mainstream services.

Asking about domestic and family violence should happen in the normal process of conversation, and take place as part of the developing relationship between client and worker. Screening is most effective when it is done with all clients of a service, rather than with select people or groups. It should occur regardless of a client’s demographic background, occupation, faith, culture, disability status or age. This is known as 'routine screening'.

Some services or government departments have policies for screening for domestic and family violence. Managers will be able to explain to staff their responsibilities.

Where the service does not have a routine screening policy, workers can ask clients about their experiences of domestic or family violence if appropriate. In some service sectors (such as mental health, alcohol and other drugs or youth services), it is good practice to screen all clients. In other settings, such as schools, medical providers or emergency services, asking about domestic or family violence will be appropriate where there are potential presentations of trauma or abuse.

If your service does not have routine screening policies and you are aware that domestic or family violence may be occurring, it helps to explain your concerns in a non-judgmental way. It is important to ensure the person you are supporting does not feel targeted or embarrassed.

For example, you might say:

  • 'I am a little concerned about you because of the things you’ve told me. I'd just like to ask you some questions about how things are at home. Is that OK with you?'
  • 'Because many people I see have experienced some kind of violence, and some are not comfortable to bring it up, I often ask my clients about it.'

Helping people feel safe to talk

Consider your service or workplace:

  • Are workers domestic and family violence informed? Do they understand the effects of domestic and family violence on the way clients present to the service?
  • Are there private, quiet places for people to talk?
  • Are there posters or materials in sight of clients that raise awareness about domestic and family violence?
  • Is the service accessible and culturally safe for all people who may be experiencing domestic and family violence? Inclusive practice means considering the needs of:
    • People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, including migrants and refugees
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
    • People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI)
    • People of varying faith or religious groups
    • People with disability
  • If the service has a practice of routine screening, is this conducted in a respectful way? Is the screening introduced as part of the normal process for the service, and applied to all clients?
  • Are the workers comfortable and practised enough to ask questions without showing discomfort or being dismissive? Are they able to ask the questions while maximising friendly, warm engagement with clients (rather than going through lists on a clipboard or computer screen, with their attention on the list rather than the client)?
  • Are workers able to deal with responses in a professional, validating and respectful way?
  • Are workers trained to respond to disclosure in ways that promote ongoing client safety?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, it is a good idea for workers to take part in Training and professional development with a registered training organisation. Find a training provider in the Service directory.

Working with people experiencing the effects of trauma

1800RESPECT
11 NOV 2014

Risk assessment and safety planning

  • Risk assessment and safety planning should only be carried out by trained professionals
  • They use a structured and systematic approach to address the risks for people experiencing domestic and family violence
  • Understanding these processes is useful for all workers providing support for people experiencing domestic and family violence

Risk assessment

Risk assessment is a structured and systematic approach for understanding and assessing risk. It is linked to safety planning and should be used to support someone who is experiencing, or at risk of experiencing violence. Risk assessments form part of an integrated response to domestic and family violence. Read Understanding risk frameworks for an overview of the complete process.

People living with domestic and family violence know their own situation best. Understanding and assessing risk begins with listening. Through listening, professionals can pick up on cues, ask questions about indicators of violence, and begin the conversation about what is happening for that person. Risk assessment helps to identify the ‘red flags’ that indicate that risk is high. Not all workers will need to use or apply risk assessment tools, but all workers can benefit from knowing about risk assessment approaches.

Domestic and family violence are widespread in the community. When violence or abuse is disclosed, workers need to understand general issues around risk so that they can take appropriate action. That action might be referral to a specialist agency that can respond with a detailed risk assessment, safety plan and support. The most appropriate course of action might also be calling the police.

Risk assessment means making a professional judgement about:

  • The risk factors that are present combined with the client’s own assessment of risk

To determine

  • The likelihood of future violence,

and

  • The potential for harm, including serious injury or death, from future violence.

Red flags

'Red flags' are the evidence-based risk factors that may indicate increased risk. Knowing the red flags is important. Research indicates that for people experiencing domestic and family violence, their own assessment of risk is a critical indicator. This is because of their knowledge and understanding of the perpetrator, including emotional state and changes in the perpetrator’s situation or behaviour that increase danger through potential for violence. For this reason, it is important to ask questions about a client’s level of fear. If a person experiencing violence (or their child) says they are frightened, then they should be believed. Their fears must be taken seriously and safety planning initiated.

Red flags include, but are not limited to:

  • Previous incidents of physical violence
  • Pregnancy
  • Separation of a relationship
  • Access to weapons
  • Threats to kill
  • Stalking
  • Obsessive, controlling behaviour
  • Escalation of violence
  • Depression in a perpetrator
  • Pet abuse, or threats of pet abuse
  • Sexual violence

The period following separation (particularly where a woman has left her partner) is the time of highest risk of being killed or seriously injured. The danger surrounding separation is not confined to the act of leaving the relationship and there are a range of events associated with increased risk of homicide for adults and children. These events include:

  • Legal separation (divorce)
  • Family separation (parenting determinations)
  • Financial separation (property settlements)
  • Re-partnering

If these red flags – or any others included in an organisation’s risk assessment framework – are present, then the next step of safety planning needs to be carefully considered. Support workers who have not received training in risk assessment and safety planning should refer to a specialist service for support. It may also be appropriate to inform the police.

Introduction to risk assessment

1800RESPECT
11 NOV 2014

Safety planning

There are many different ways to make a safety plan. A plan needs to be made to suit individual circumstances, to promote safety immediately and be able to change when circumstances change. A safety plan can help to explore options and ideas to increase safety when domestic or family violence is happening. It can also help those experiencing sexual assault when the perpetrator is someone known.

Sexual assault, domestic and family violence services can provide additional information and support. These services can help with thinking about options.

Understanding safety planning

A service might be making a safety plan with a client who is experiencing domestic or family violence.

When making a safety plan with someone experiencing violence, it's important to start by listening. People living with domestic and family violence know their situation best. First listen for, and ask questions about, what has been happening. This will be helpful  in understanding the risks. Find out what they already do to increase safety and use this as a basis for helping them to think about what else might increase their safety. The Safety planning checklist can provide ideas about how to develop a plan but not all of the ideas will be relevant.

Keep in mind that there may be multiple perpetrators and other individual needs that influence the plan. Read about Inclusive practice to better understand some of the factors that may be a barrier to safety for people experiencing violence.

It is important not to judge or make decisions for the person being supported. 'Just leaving' is not always a safe option. Keep in mind that leaving is the time of greatest risk to life and safety. It is important to work with a client to build a plan that works for them.

There are some important things to remember when making a safety plan:

  • A safety plan can be part of building a trust relationship. This relationship may be one of the most valuable resources for a person experiencing domestic or family violence.
  • There may be mandatory reporting responsibilities, particularly if children are at risk of harm
  • Specialist services may be required for additional support. It may be necessary to refer a client to legal, counselling, crisis accommodation and other services. Use our Service directory or contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for advice on local services.

Safety planning checklists

These checklists should be used as a general guide to things that can be done to increase a client’s safety. Keep in mind that safety planning needs to be tailored to each person’s individual needs and circumstances.

1800RESPECT provides information for workers from all sectors who support people impacted by domestic and family violence. Professionals can use the phone line or web chat to access information on a range of topics, including supporting clients, finding a training organisation or discussing workplace stress.

Introduction to safety planning

1800RESPECT
11 NOV 2014