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Risk assessment

The process of assessing risk starts at intake and continues until intervention is finalised.   Risk assessment is a critical part of child protection work and includes gathering information in relation to harm, risk factors and acts of protection, strengths and resources. It also includes analysing this information to provide a holistic assessment that can guide decision making and case plan direction.

Pattern of violence

Have a perpetrator patterns focus on the father’s behaviour when assessing risk to the child:

  • the father’s use of violence outside the home: Find out if he has used violence, intimidating or threatening behaviour in other places and contexts such as at school, in his workplace, or towards police and community members. It may be useful to consider his history of criminal behaviour
  • his use of violence in past relationships: Gather information about how he has used violence towards intimate partners in the past, including their children. Consider the use of a Significant DFV threat alert  in ICMS.   
  • the types of violence he uses: Use the Safe and Together Mapping perpetrators' patterns tool to help you explore and document the various ways he uses violence to harm the mother and cause disruption to the family.

Explore patterns of violence with the mother

Consider how he uses violence, power and control. In your talks with a woman, it may help to use the The Power and Control Wheel along with some of the questions in the following table. It can be helpful in identifying the ways in which a mother is being controlled and abused.

Be open to the different ways mothers may feel confident in expressing themselves and talking about abuse. For example, some mothers may find it easier to draw their experiences of violence rather than to use words.

Practice considerations Conversation ideas
Assess risk of physical violence

How has she been hurt?

  • Are there times when Paul has done things to hurt your body?
  • Can you tell me about what he has done?
  • What did you do?
  • How often does he hurt you?
  • Have you ever needed to go to a doctor or hospital after he has hurt you?

How does she protect herself and the children?

  • Do you know the warning signs that tell you Paul is likely to be violent?
  • Can you tell me what they are?
  • What do you do when you notice a warning sign?
  • So when you moved your face, you protected it from being hit. What did he do when you moved your face?

What do the children know and how does she respond to them?

  • Do you think your kids know the warning signs?
  • How do you know that?
  • What do they do when they notice?
  • What do you do when you see that they notice?

Is his violence getting worse?

  • When was/is Paul’s violence at its worst?
  • Do you think that he is becoming more violent?
  • What does he do to make you think he is getting worse?
  • Does it happen more?
  • Are your injuries worse?

What is she worrying about?

  • What is it that you are most worried about?
  • What about for your children?

Who else knows and do they help or harm?

  • Who else knows about what is going on for your family?
  • How do they respond?
  • What do you do when they respond in that way?
Assess financial control

Who controls the money in your house?

Do you have money to buy the things you need?

Do you have access to a bank card?

Do you have to ask him for money? How do you do that? What does he do?

If you’re getting paid, are you able to access this money?

Does Paul apply for bank cards in your name, or put household bills in your name without you agreeing to this? What do you do when he does this?

Does Paul ask you to account for money that you have spent?  How do you do that?

Assess social isolation

Are you able to contact your friends and family whenever you want to?

Do you drive or can you get to public transport so you can go out?

Does he support you spending time with other people?

Does he put down or criticise your friends and family? What do you do when he does this? What do you think?

Does he tell you that you don’t need anyone other than him?

What do you think when he says this?
Assess stalking and harassment

Are you worried that he is checking your phone records, emails or what you do online?

Do you feel like he knows where you go during the day? Why do you feel that? What do you do when you feel that way?

Do you feel like he is spying on you?

Has he ever threatened that he will track you down if you leave him? What do you do when he says this? Do you believe him? What do you think?

Does he send you abusive text messages or call you multiple times during the day?

Are you worried about what will happen if you don’t pick up the phone or answer his texts immediately? What do you think would happen?

Assess psychological and emotional abuse

Does he ever tell you that you are crazy? Does he put you down in front of others?

Is he jealous of you or jealous of other people who are around you?

Does he act in a way that confuses you and makes you unsure what to expect?

Does he tell you that you need help with your alcohol use, and then drink in front of you? What about drug use? What do you do? What do you think?

Do you feel like he constantly shifts the goalposts?

Assess sexual abuse

Do you feel your partner pressures you into sex? (This could be physically through violence but could also be by nagging, sulking and name-calling.)

Can you safely say ‘no’ if you don’t want to have sex?

Can you access the type of contraception you would like to use?

Does he ever force you to do sexual things that you don’t want to do? (This includes watching pornography.)

Assess the way he uses children

Does your partner threaten that if you leave him, you won’t see the children again? Do you believe him? What do you do when he says that?

Does he hurt you physically or emotionally in front of the children?

Does he tell the children that they don’t need to listen to you? That you are silly or crazy? What do they do? What do you do?

Does he tell the children to hit you or call you names?

Have you noticed your children copying his behaviour?

Do you feel that you can parent your children in the way that you would like to? Why? Why not?

Assess spiritual abuse

Can you practise your religious and cultural traditions in the way that you would like to?

Does he try to belittle or undermine your religious and cultural practices?

Does he insist that your children are raised with his religious traditions instead of yours?

Does he use your religion, or his, as an excuse to hurt you?


Lethality indicators

There are several factors that are known to be high-risk indicators of serious injury and death.  The more lethality indicators present and the more intense or severe the behaviours are, the more you should act immediately on the possibility that the perpetrator will attempt to kill his partner, children or someone else.

The following tables include high-risk factors for lethality or serious injury and other general risk factors.

High-risk factors for lethality and serious injury
Lethality indicators Considerations
Separating: actual or attempting Mothers are most at risk of lethality or serious injury in the time pending, during or immediately after separation, particularly in the first 6 months after separation.
Threats of homicide or suicide All threats of homicide and suicide need to be taken seriously, even if the father has made these threats previously and has not harmed anyone. Threats of suicide are a high-risk factor for murder-suicide scenarios.
Stalking This includes physically following, unwanted contact via phone, text or social media platforms, or any other form of surveillance.
Intimate partner sexual violence This is any forced or unwanted sexual activity that occurs without consent. Sexual assault is a serious form of violence and demonstrates intent to control the victim.
Non-lethal Strangulation Also referred to as choking, strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence. When a victim is strangled, she may lose consciousness within seconds and die within minutes. Violent men often use strangulation to kill their victims. A 2008 study found victims of attempted strangulation are 7 times more likely to be murdered.
Possession of or access to weapons and previous assaults with weapons Men who use violence and have access to weapons are more likely to cause serious injuries to their victims. Previous use of a weapon indicates a high risk of future serious violence.
Escalation of violence Does the woman believe the violence is currently escalating? Mothers’ assessment of their and their children’s safety is an important indicator. Victims of domestic violence are the experts in their own safety. Most are clear about what will make them safer or unsafe.
Severity of violence This refers to any increase in the intensity of violence over the past 6 months—including stalking.
Coercive control This refers to a pattern of repeated behaviours to dominate and control one’s partner that may underpin other risk factors and may change or escalate in interaction with other risk factors.
Injuries Consider if the woman, child or someone close to the woman has been hospitalised because of the violence in the last 12 months.
Pregnancy Domestic violence often starts or becomes worse during pregnancy. If a victim reports violence during pregnancy, there is a high risk that the violence will continue in future.
Threats to children The father may use threats to harm the children as a way of maintaining control. If he is no longer living in the family home, check if he complies with contact arrangements. For example, is he returning children late from contact or refusing to return them? See the Post-separation power and control wheel for further information about the ways contact with children can be used to harass and intimidate their mother.

Other general risk factors

Hostage taking This is a sign of the father attempting to maintain a high level of control over the victim. It may also be a sign that they are losing control.
Acute depression and serious mental illness Being mentally ill does not in itself mean that a person is likely to be violent, but in murder-suicide situations, the perpetrator often has a co-existing mental illness (in particular, depression).
Abuse or killing of pets Research into family violence and animal abuse has found some men hurt or kill family pets to maintain control over the victim. Harm to animals correlates with a high risk of serious violence to the victim as well as an increased level of risk to children.
Extreme dependence on the victim If a father using violence cannot accept the possibility of living without the woman, he may feel he is losing control if she attempts to leave the relationship or make other changes. He may try to regain control by seriously harming or killing her. This is often expressed as ‘I can’t live without you’ or ‘If I can’t have you, no one else will.’
Previous history of severe violence Men’s use of violence tends to escalate both in severity and frequency over time.
Alcohol and other drug use Although alcohol and other drugs do not cause people to become violent, they can lower inhibitions and impair judgement.
Repeated calls to police Calling police is usually the last course of action taken by mothers. Repeated calls to police usually mean the woman is extremely fearful for her safety.
Getting away with abuse If the father has previously breached a domestic violence order without any consequences, he may have less regard for the law and legal consequences.
Unemployment If a violent man has recently lost his job, the victim may be at higher risk.

Conversation ideas with the mother to explore threat

  • Has your partner’s violence got worse over the past week or month?
  • Can you describe how the violence is worse and what’s different?
  • What do you think it is like for the children now that the violence is getting worse?
  • What have the children said to you about how bad the violence is getting?
  • Has your partner ever tried to stop you from caring for your children?
  • Can you tell us how he tried to stop you caring for them?
  • What have you been doing to try to keep yourself and the children safe now that the violence is getting worse?
  • What have you tried in the past to help you and the children to be safer?
  • When do you feel safest?
  • When do you feel most unsafe?

Assess social responses

It is important to consider social responses to violence in your assessment. The social responses the woman or child have received, or the responses they anticipate they will receive, may influence how safe they feel to talk about the violence, what actions they take and whether they feel responsible for the violence.

Similarly, how the father using violence has been responded to will influence whether he feels he has the right to use violence.

Knowing about this will help you understand what impact the violence is having on the family, how isolated the child and mother are and what networks may be supportive (or harmful). You can read more about social responses to domestic violence in the part of this practice kit that deals with Working with children and Working with mothers experiencing violence.

Practice prompt

Who loves, or would love, this child? How can they be brought in to help create safety for this child? What connections do or could exist for this family who could give a positive social response?

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