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Harm and protection

Assess harm and acts of protection

Domestic violence can be overlooked or minimised in safety assessment responses. This may be because violence is disguised by more obvious dangers or because practitioners fall into the trap of not seeing the immediate danger domestic violence poses to children.

Domestic violence is a challenging societal and practice issue. This complexity can influence practitioners to focus on other dangers that are considered more concrete or treatable, because they are easier to assess and plan for.

It has also been noted that cases involving domestic violence reflect higher levels of parental mental health problems, substance misuse, poverty, transience and homelessness than the cases where domestic violence had not been reported.

When domestic violence exists, the children involved are more likely to experience other dangers.

Practice prompt

Even if domestic violence is not a reported issue, always remain curious about whether violence may be present. Look out for signs of any power and control tactics at play.

New partners

In some families, danger to children may be higher if a mother's new partner joins the household. There is a body of research about the increased risk to children by new partners, particularly the risk of children being seriously or fatally assaulted.

This is also an important theme of system and practice reviews of child deaths. These internal reviews have found that some men form new relationships with mothers who have young children and very quickly take on a fathering role. These men can have very limited experiences of parenting, which might raise the risk of increased violence when the child does not meet their unrealistic expectations of how a child should act or behave.

Key issues when completing a safety assessment

When completing the SDM safety assessment, practitioners should gather information from a wide variety of sources.

Practitioners engage with families, children, young people and communities whose culture, ethnicity, economic status, age, gender, spirituality and sexual orientation may differ from their own. It’s important to remember that practitioners can be influenced by their own personal experiences and be biased when assessing others where difference exists.

This is why it is essential that information is gathered not just from the family but also from domestic and family violence support services and our partners in police education and health to ensure that we have an accurate understanding of the perpetrator’s patterns of behaviour to make a rigorous and balanced assessment of safety.  Be cautious when gathering information from the extended family, as fathers often use paternal family members to perpetrate violence towards mothers.

Use the SDM safety assessment tool, paying attention to SDM safety assessment Immediate harm indicator 7:

Parent, adult household member or intimate partner (past or present) of the parent is violent or controlling toward an adult in the child’s household and poses a danger of serious physical or emotional harm to the child.

The SDM manual provides detailed definitions and instructions for completing the safety assessment tool.

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