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

Working with people experiencing the effects of trauma

How does the experience of trauma shape the way our clients act and react to our services? This video introduces the ideas behind trauma-informed care, best practice in working with women and children

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.

Further resources

Risk assessment is specialist work that requires particular skills and knowledge. Training in the use of these framework is recommended for frontline workers.

Find a training provider

Training in the use of risk assessment frameworks is offered by some domestic and family violence services as well as health and other organisations. Visit our services directory for information on training providers in your state or territory.


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