Safety Planning vs extended networks of violence

Safety planning should be personalized and adaptive to the client’s changing needs, the fact that there may be multiple perpetrators of violence (as in an extended patriarchal family with a close-knit and sympathetic community reference-group) and to the dynamic aspects of the risk of violence.[1]

Risk and safety planning is complicated by large and diffused networks of violence with the involvement of multiple perpetrators and supporters of violence. The vignette below illustrates the connection between safety planning, police intervention, and the awareness of the role of extended networks of family and community perpetrators (primary and secondary; including perpetrators as well as aiders, abettors, sympathizers and apologists) in HBV.

Safety planning like we have patrol officers here that are specialized to violence and they’re called victim service VSTs. So there’s two of them in each squad so there’s always different patrol squads that go out during the day and then they have different shifts and night. Each squad has two people that are they go to family disputes and spousal violence incidences as much as possible and they go up on a follow up after the no contact order was given to the perpetrator and they go out to check to make sure that he’s not there and they’ve reached in, looked for him if he’s hanging around stalking right? So those are the VSTs. Yeah. So I think those like they also get – they sit down with the victim and they do safety planning. Yeah. So those would be very in a better position to be cultural aware to have that knowledge and say oh, there’s more risk factors here. Yeah this is  larger context. There is more than the perpetrator. There’s also the extended family to worry about. There’s also community members at the door all the time telling her she’s not doing the right thing, you know, threats from them or you know, intimidation. (Link)

Risk and safety planning are also complicated by dynamic risk.  This is noted in many kinds of family violence, for example, with pregnancy and holidays being times of heightened violence. In cases of HBV, for example, a potential victim of forced marriage may be more at risk once the school holidays arrive and absence from school would not be noted. In agencies that do have formalized risk assessment and safety planning tools, it is uncertain how far the clients themselves are (or can be) enabled to manage and monitor their own safety and risk. The Danger Assessment, for example, allows the user herself to record and monitor the temporally dynamic and changing aspects of risk.[2]

The vignettes below underscore the importance of integrating individualized safety plans with responsibility plans, so that help-seekers can be empowered to take the reins for managing their safety in accordance with the level of risk, which may be greater in situations where the parties are in contact, e.g. during legal hearings or when the abuser is allowed to have access to the children[3].

All my safety plans I developed with the clients is what they think their risks are and what are they willing to do to keep themselves safe. So I never tell the clients they need to do this or need to do that because that’s’ not going to work. No generic approaches. That’s when my colleague and I talk about safety planning, or one of the things that we emphasized is like the question we asked is whose safety plan is it? Is it the client’s or is it yours right? So if it’s the client’s safety plan who should be developing that safety plan? Because you want the client to be able to act instinctively if something occurs right. Rather than trying to figure out well what did my social worker tell me that I was supposed to do right? So if we’re working with a client who feels that she’s not going to be safe within the family unit, larger family unit, you know, and expresses that, that should be taken respectfully and addressed appropriately right? So you look at alternatives especially if it’s someone who is able to communicate it. It’s a little bit harder with younger children okay than it is with let’s say someone who is a teen or whatever. But we totally try, attempt to constantly hammer if that’s an appropriate term that these are plans developed by the individual and need to be respected as such. … You don’t just go okay here make up a safety plan. You guide them through that process and you cover all the areas but it still has to be their safety plan. … There’s a lot of generic safety plans online. I say don’t – like you can read them if you want if they’re doing their own research but I developed our own safety plan and say these are the things you need to do or not do but these is your safety loan that we developed. If the abuser is not in the household, like we usually recommend posting it on the fridge so that everyone is aware of the same thing.[00:35:08] if it’s not safe for them to have it at home, I just keep a copy of it because if they don’t feel that they can take a copy, that hasn’t happened in too many cases. But every time I talk out with them if they don’t – I go over what’s happened since we last chatted. Have you felt at risk. Have you began to put in place your safety plan and go from there. Because sometimes we’ll end up doing the safety plan and then the situation comes up and they didn’t do anything that they said that they were going to do. So explore well why was that. So that option didn’t work for you what else can you do next time. (Link)

Lessons learned

Risk assessment should involve a compilation, analysis and synthesis of the family and patterns of interaction that may be connected to the violence. This stage of information gathering should be culturally appropriate. That is, it should encompass self-identification, objective and subjective measures of income status (income being objective and self-perception being subjective); family structure and dynamics, language preference and migration history (pre and post-migration facts as well as perceptions of the experience, e.g. culture shock, deaths in family, loss of income, inability to obtain desired employment), prior exposure to violence and trauma, probes for suicidal potentiality (history and ideation), and culturally relevant coping strategies and sources of strength and support.[4]

The comprehensive risk assessment is tied to the safety planning process. The collection of information for safety planning should identify sources of harm and strength. The latter may include trusted friendships, work relationships (past and current) and safe connections in the family or community. However, as noted earlier, with HBV, this information must be treated with extreme caution. The service provider should contact any persons deemed to be safety connections only with the consent of the client. However, the degree of safety and reliability of those connections should be considered via the lens of a thorough risk assessment. The service provider should also assess and discuss the potential for harm in the safe connections mentioned by the client. All risk, safety planning and strength assessments are to be treated as live documents subject to regular scrutiny and revision. A key practice component throughout  will be counselling and therapy to acknowledge harms experienced, to discuss the family and other relational dynamics as these pertain to the harms experienced as well as to strengths that can enable healing and rehabilitation.

Transition, exit and rehabilitation planning are also to be included as part of the client management. The case manager will also discuss contact options for periodic post-exit follow-up with the client to find out if there has been a return to risk, if the client is able to independently access services and support in the community, and if the client is on the track to safety and rehabilitation or not. Post-exit contact will be subject to informed consent by the client.


[1] Messing, J. T., Amanor-Boadu, Y., Cavanaugh, C. E., Glass, N. E., & Campbell, J. C. (2013). Culturally competent intimate partner violence risk assessment: Adapting the danger assessment for immigrant women. Social Work Research, 37(3), 263-275. There are three main components of cultural competency for helping professionals: (1) awareness of their values, beliefs, and biases; (2) knowledge of their clients’ values, beliefs, and cultural practices; and (3) the skills to use culturally appropriate and sensitive intervention strategies To practice in a culturally competent manner, practitioners need culturally competent risk assessment tools; however, there are currently no risk assessment instruments for identifying immigrant women at risk for severe and lethal IPV despite the evidence that this population is at elevated risk for experiencing IPV and femicide. Because of the specific vulnerabilities of immigrant women, risk assessments need to be adapted for use with this population.’ 

[2] Northcott Melissa. (n.d). Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Tools: A review. Link. According to Northcott: The Danger Assessment (DA) was developed by Jacquelyn Campbell in the United States and is used throughout the United States and Canada…. The DA is a structured clinical assessment tool that was originally designed for use by emergency room nurses to assess the likelihood of intimate partner homicide … It is now also used to predict domestic violence recidivism, but not in low-risk or medium violence cases … It is used in a number of settings, including for the purposes of victim education and awareness, safety planning and determining the conditions of services. The DA is comprised of two parts. The first is a calendar on which the victim indicates the severity and frequency of instances of domestic violence that she experienced within the last 12 months. The second part is a 20-item checklist of risk factors that are related to intimate partner homicide … Both sections are completed in collaboration with the victim… the most appropriate users of the DA are victim advocates, social workers or clinicians in various settings, such as women’s shelters and hospitals. The strengths of the DA are that it has strong test-re-test reliability, good inter-rater reliability and construct validity, and correlates strongly with other measures of domestic violence…In addition, it is a good tool to use with victims as it allows victims to better understand the risk that the relationship may pose to them and what risk management options are available …It may also serve as a useful instrument when information is difficult to obtain or when the offender cannot be interviewed. The accuracy of the DA, however, is not as strong as other tools and it does not provide the evaluator with a means of assessing the risk level posed by the accused ….’

[3] Jenney, A., Mishna, F., Alaggia, R., & Scott, K. (2014). Doing the right thing?(Re) Considering risk assessment and safety planning in child protection work with domestic violence cases. Children and youth services review, 47, 92-101. (p98) Some workers believed that engaging women in creating their own safety plans was a relational technique that increased the chances of the effectiveness of that plan. They also understood that they couldn’t always change clients, which was an inherent reality in their work. This belief was always related to the attempt to convince women to leave an abusive partner; considered by workers the most effective form of safety plan.

[4] United Cultures of Canada Association. ‘Tip sheet for interviewing victims of specific domestic crime’ p 114-115 in Kumar, N. (n.d). Crimes, Not Cultures. Link

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