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 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
- The likelihood of future violence,
- The potential for harm, including serious injury or death, from future violence.
'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
- Separation of a relationship
- Access to weapons
- Threats to kill
- 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)
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.
CALD women face particular barriers to accessing services. This video explores techniques for working in a culturally competent way to ensure services are accessible. It includes information about forced marriage.
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.
- Safety planning checklist
- Family violence safety planning checklist
- Disability safety planning checklist
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.
This video is an introduction to the techniques of safety planning when working with people experiencing violence. It should be used in conjunction with Risk Assessment Frameworks and Tools.