Practice guide: Safety assessment and planning
Immediate safety plans
Immediate safety plans are developed when an immediate harm indicator has been identified when completing the Structured Decision Making (SDM) safety assessment tool. It is important to also assess acts of protection, strengths and resources, if applicable, to help determine whether an immediate safety plan may be possible.
Work with the family and their safety and support network to attempt to create a plan that will provide safety for the child in the short term. Immediate safety plans are to be reviewed at least every 7 days. Monitoring these plans may sometimes be a daily occurrence, and network members can be called on to assist in the monitoring of the plan.
If the family does not have a safety and support network, this is the time to help identify who may be able to help them. Network members could be extended family, friends and neighbours who care about the child and are able to work both with the family and Child Safety.
Tools such as genograms, eco-maps and Circles of Safety and Support can assist practitioners to identify network members.
Long term safety and support plans
Long-term safety and support plans are to be developed with the children, family and their safety and support network. The network is made up of a range of people, and could include family members, professionals, carers, and community members. These network members will support parents, children and young people in developing and maintaining safety through case and safety planning.
The use of safety and support networks in the Child Safety context aims to build on and strengthen a child or young person’s and their family’s natural networks. Safety and support plans provide clarity to all network members about their purpose, the known worries, goals and action steps as well as the non-negotiables and ‘what ifs’ that everyone should plan and have contingencies for.
Long-term safety and support plans can support safe and effective reunification, family contact within a more natural setting and the maintenance of connections with family, community and culture.
All safety and support plans should contain the following:
- detailed action steps to address the identified worries and achieve the identified goals
- a network of family, friends, and community
- flexibility to update and change regularly. Creating safety is a process not an event. We are assessing safety throughout the process
- a method for keeping child safe and a change strategy
- key decision points to check progress.
Safety planning do’s
Here are some of the issues to consider that will help you develop a safety plan when the danger identified relates to domestic violence. Further exploration of these issues is necessary.
Ask the mother what might work to reduce the risk of further domestic violence and what you can do to help.
Make sure your well-meaning efforts do not inadvertently increase danger for the mother and children.
Consider history. Past harm to a child or young person is a good indicator of potential for present and future harm. Similarly, a parent’s ability to protect their children in the past is a good indicator of the potential to create safety now and in the future.
Focus on creating safety for the mother. Begin safety planning, support and education with the mother and children right away. Give information about domestic violence orders and about local programs for victims of domestic violence.
Acknowledge the mother’s efforts to keep her children safe. Respect her right to decide her own life and course of action, but make sure she knows how the decisions she makes may, or may not, affect your decision about the children’s safety.
Consider the use of a verbal safety plan if providing written information or developing a written safety plan may increase risk. Alternatively, consider a secret safety plan that is developed without the father knowing and is then hidden in a safe place. The mother is the best judge of whether accepting written information may increase the risk.
Always liaise with police and seek information where appropriate.
Explore possible triggers for violence. For example, does the mother believe there are triggers for violence that could be controlled through the safety plan? Does the father identify triggers for his violence?
Use extended family and community partners to create support and safety for the mother and children, and accountability and support for the father.
Revisit safety plans regularly. When domestic violence is a danger, circumstances can change abruptly.
Safety planning don’ts
Don’t confront a person using violence with information provided by the mother or children that has the potential to place them in further danger.
Don’t recommend separation unless you have considered the increased danger and can have reasonable confidence in the safety plan to manage this danger. Remember that the danger to mothers and children increases at the point of separation. Forcing a mother to leave or disallowing a person using violence access to his child can create the risk of serious assault or murder.
Don’t overburden the woman with tasks designed to create safety for her children. Instead, where possible, hold the father accountable for his use of violence and suggest he take his share of responsibility for safety interventions.
Don’t suggest interventions that will require the father and mother or children to be present at the same time. This can increase danger and could deflect responsibility back onto the mother.
Don’t use terms such as ‘abused’ or ‘domestic violence perpetrator’ when speaking with the family. This will reduce the ability of the family to be honest about what is happening in the home.
Do not seek agreement from the father or contract with the father to stop his use of violence as part of the safety plan. (This is not something that is likely to be achieved in the short term.)
Don’t include tasks and actions in the safety plan that will not increase safety in the short term such as getting the father to attend a perpetrator program. This is an action for case planning.
Don’t include behaviours that the mother should not do in response to triggers identified by the father. Don’t include that the mother ‘stop nagging’ or ‘keep the children quiet’. This inappropriately places responsibility on the mother to stop the violence.
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