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2.3.1 Assessing emotional abuse - family and domestic violence

Last Modified: 28-Jun-2018 Review Date: 01-Jul-2019

Purpose

To guide child protection workers on the assessment of emotional abuse – family and domestic violence.

Practice Requirements

Duty interactions and initial inquiry

  • Decisions about whether the Child Protection and Family Support division has a role in cases where a child has been exposed to family and domestic violence (FDV), must be informed by the following:
    • likelihood that a child has suffered significant harm or is at risk of significant harm
    • likelihood that an adult victim has suffered significant harm or is at risk of significant harm
    • the age and vulnerability of the child
    • the perpetrator’s pattern of behaviour including history, severity and frequency of violent and abusive tactics, and the presence of evidence based risk indicators (or red flags), and
    • factors impacting on the family which may increase risk or vulnerability such as mental ill-health, substance misuse, homelessness and adult victim vulnerability.
  • Child protection workers must be cognisant that protectiveness of the adult victim is not sufficient reason for us not to have a role when there is indication of significant harm to a child, or likely significant harm to a child.
  • When a family presents on multiple occasions within a short period of time, the case must be intaked. If the case is not progressed to initial inquiry or safety and wellbeing assessment (SWA), a rationale for the decision must be recorded and approved by a team leader. At every subsequent contact the need to undertake further assessment must be reviewed.

Safety and Wellbeing Assessment

Assessing emotional abuse-FDV must involve gathering and analysing information about:

    • the perpetrator's use of violence toward the child and adult victim including the history, severity and frequency of violence and high risk behaviours
    • the impact of FDV on the child, and
    • existing strengths and/or safety for child and adult victim - this includes the perpetrator's preparedness to change and willingness to engage in the safety planning process to keep his children safe from harm.
  • All recording related to FDV including harm statements, danger statements and safety goals, must identify the perpetrator of FDV as the person responsible for the harm and/or danger to the child.
  • The adult victim must not be held responsible for the actions of the perpetrator or for changing his behaviour. 

Developing a working relationship with the adult victim

  • Child protection workers must speak to the adult victim alone at least once to:
    • identify any immediate safety concerns (to her or her child) that need to be managed
    • gather information about the perpetrator's use of violence and its impact on the child
    • gather information about existing safety strategies, including behaviours or actions that reduce the child’s exposure to violence and/or reduce emotional harm
    • support referral to a FDV service
    • discuss how we can best engage the person who is using violence, and
    • discuss how we can safely communicate and work with the adult victim.

Engaging the perpetrator of violence

  • Child protection workers must, where possible and appropriate, interview the person who is using violence to inform an assessment about his preparedness to acknowledge his violent and abusive behaviour, readiness to cease violence and abuse, and willingness to engage in safety planning.
  • A decision not to contact the perpetrator of FDV must be clearly documented in the SWA. The decision must be approved by a team leader.
  • In cases of emotional abuse-FDV where harm or likelihood of harm is substantiated, child protection workers must consider whether the perpetrator meets the criteria for ‘assessed as causing significant harm’ (ASH).

Joint meetings involving the adult victim and perpetrator

  • Joint meetings must not occur in the following circumstances:
    • the victim and perpetrator are separated
    • a police order, family violence restraining order or protective bail conditions prohibits contact
    • the adult victim is frightened, intimidated or controlled by the perpetrator, or
    • the child protection worker has assessed that a joint meeting is not likely to be a safe, suitable or effective approach to engaging either parent.  

Procedures

  • Introduction
  • Duty interaction
  • Emotional abuse - family and domestic violence safety and wellbeing assessment
  • Assessment tools
  • Gathering information
  • Analysing the information gathered – forming an assessment
  • Mappings or other meetings involving family
  • Recording ASH for Family and Domestic Violence
  • Recording family and domestic violence in Assist
  • Financial assistance - family violence assistance to leave
  • Introduction

    This entry provides information and guidance about conducting assessments for emotional abuse - FDV. Further information about safety planning, responding to the perpetrator of violence, or seeking a family violence restraining order on behalf of a child, can also be found under Chapter 2.3. 

    These procedures should be read in conjunction with Chapter 2: Children and Young People are Safe from Abuse and Harm (including Children in Care).

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    Duty interaction

    Determining whether Child Protection and Family Support division has a role in assessing and responding to 'emotional abuse-family and domestic violence' 

    FDV is a factor in the majority of child protection cases. Sometimes it is the primary reason for referral; at other times it is a factor contributing to or causing the presenting problem, such as homelessness or neglect. In making an assessment, a search of the FDV Triage Application should be undertaken to identify any reports of family and domestic violence involving the parents, other adults living in the home, and/or regular visitors to the home in order to screen out FDV.

    Decisions about whether or not we have a role should be informed by the following factors. As a general principle, a child’s exposure to a single severe episode of violence or exposure to repeated episodes of violence over time, would both warrant intake for further investigation. Exposure can include witnessing or hearing acts of FDV or seeing physical injuries caused by FDV.

    Factors to consider when determining whether it is likely that a child has suffered significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm in the future include:

    • the perpetrator's pattern of behaviour, including the violent and abusive tactics used
    • the history, severity and frequency of the violence
    • the child’s exposure and indications of emotional harm
    • the age and vulnerability of the child, and
    • factors impacting on the family which may increase vulnerability such as mental ill-health, substance misuse, chronic health issues, homelessness and social isolation.

    Where FDV has been identified and is not intaked for further assessment, a rationale for the decision must be recorded in the duty interaction. At every subsequent contact the need to undertake an assessment must be reviewed. Note that protectiveness of the adult victim is not sufficient reason for Communites not to have a role when it is likely that there has been, or is likely to be, significant harm to a child.

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    Emotional abuse - family and domestic violence safety and wellbeing assessment

    The purpose of an assessment about emotional abuse–FDV is to clarify:

    • whether the child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm
    • the person responsible for the harm
    • whether the child’s parents have protected or are unlikely or unable to protect the child from further harm of that kind, and
    • whether a safety plan is required.

    The procedures outlined below are designed to guide the assessment process.

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    Assessment tools

    The Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources) provides information and examples for child protection workers.  It includes questions for interviewing mum, dad and the child(ren); determining the primary aggressor; indicators of high risk; sample harm statements; sample danger statements; sample safety goals; guidance about analysing the information obtained and guidance about using research to manage gaps in evidence.

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    Gathering information

    Working with the adult victim

    A strong and ongoing working relationship with the adult victim is a priority. Child protection workers must interview the adult victim alone at least once, before a mapping that involves family, and before interviewing or speaking to the person who is using violence. The adult victim and child should be the primary sources of information for FDV assessment. The focus of the first interview and ongoing work with the adult victim must include:

     
    • identifying immediate and ongoing safety concerns (to her or her child) that need to be managed
    • gathering information about the perpetrator's use of violence and its impact on the child
    • gathering information about her existing safety strategies including ways that she works to minimise the harm/impact on the child
    • supporting referral to a FDV service
    • discussing how we can best engage the person who is using violence, and
    • discussing how we can safely communicate and work with the adult victim.

    To assist child protection workers to develop a working relationship with the adult victim, refer to the following (in related resources):

    When exploring existing strengths or safety strategies, child protection workers should remember that victims of FDV are rarely 'passive' in their experience of abuse. Most victims do what they can to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks and to protect any children in their care. This may encompass strategies by the adult victim to avoid and diffuse violence, for example:

    • placating the perpetrator
    • being aware of triggers or patterns of escalation
    • removing themselves and/or the children, or
    • seeking help during or after an incident. 

    Child protection workers should seek to identify these behaviours as indicators of strengths exhibited by the adult victim. Identifying this behaviour and naming it as an important protective strategy will help to build a genuine partnership with the adult victim and may promote self-confidence and reduce feelings of powerlessness and helplessness.

    Interviewing the child

    Child protection workers must interview or sight the child(ren). Interviews with children should gather information on:

    • the child’s experiences of FDV the ways the perpetrator's use of violence is impacting on the child. This should include the less overt forms of violence such as disrupting parenting, forcing the child and adult victim to leave the house when they are unsafe, being kept awake at night, not providing money for food, perpetrator's needs being prioritised over the children etc.
    • the child(ren)’s feelings towards each parent
    • times when they feel safe and/or the good times at home, and
    • any other information that may be relevant about the family.

    Prompts or suggested questions for exploring these areas with the child, including use of ‘three houses’ are provided in the Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources).

    Seeking information from partner agencies

    Child protection workers must gather information from partner agencies about the perpetrator’s use of violence, the child’s exposure to violence, and impact of exposure on the child. We have a number of arrangements in place to enable the exchange of information about FDV. A comprehensive list is provided in the Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources).

    Engaging the person who is using violence

    The person using violence is usually the person responsible for harming the child, and is also the person most capable of being able to improve the child’s safety (by changing their behaviour). It is therefore imperative that we engage with the person using violence, where safe and practicable.

    The purpose of interviewing the person using violence is to:

    • convey our concerns about his use of violence and its impact upon the child
    • support referral to a men’s FDV service where available (consider the suitability of the Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline if services are not locally available)
    • assess his preparedness to acknowledge and take responsibility for his violence
    • invite and assess willingness to engage in safety planning, and
    • monitor/inform the assessment of likely future danger.

    Note: Outright denial, blaming the victim and children, refusal of service and lack of willingness to work with us all indicate a likelihood that the perpetrator will continue to use violence and harm the adult victim and child.

    Any information gathered from the perpetrator should be critically considered with regard to its reliability and accuracy, and used as ‘additional information’ only in the analysis of information.

    To assist child protection workers to plan for an interview with the person using violence, a series of questions and prompts have been developed and are available in Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources).

    A decision not to contact the perpetrator of FDV must be clearly documented in the SWA and the decision approved by a team leader. Acceptable reasons for not interviewing the person using violence may include: unmanageable risk to worker safety; unmanageable risk to the safety of the child and adult victim; and inability to contact after all avenues have been exhausted.

    Reporting crimes to the police

    Child protection workers must contact the police if they obtain evidence of, or observe a FDV offence. This includes, but is not limited to, breach of protection order (protective bail, family violence restraining order or police order), assault, property damage, failure to protect a child (a perpetrator can be charged with failure to protect if they have exposed their child to FDV), threats to kill, stalking, deprivation of liberty and intimidation.

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    Analysing the information gathered – forming an assessment

    Determining the primary aggressor

    On occasion, the reports/information gathered can indicate that both parents are using violence. In these cases, child protection workers should seek to determine if there is a primary aggressor. Primary aggressor means the person who poses the most serious and ongoing threat to safety and wellbeing. This assessment is important as it will inform who we needsto work with, and what the primary risks are that need to be managed to promote the safety of the child. For further information, see Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources).

    Has the child been significantly harmed as a result of emotional abuse–FDV?

    To form an assessment that a child has suffered significant harm arising from emotional abuse–FDV, child protection workers need to be able to demonstrate that:

    • a child has been exposed to significant FDV, either a single severe act of violence or repeated acts of violence and abuse over a period of time, and
    • the child suffered significant harm as a result. Emotional harm can include, but is not limited to, a child feeling worried, frightened, sad or anxious, a child exhibiting signs of trauma including developmental delay or regression, a child being forced into homelessness and/or a child lacking appropriate care and attention due to the perpetrators behaviours.

    For further information about assessing emotional harm, refer to Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit(in related resources) 

    If a child protection worker substantiates that significant harm has occurred, a harm statement(s) must be developed. The harm statement must identify the person using violence as the person responsible for the harm and clearly specify the behaviours that have caused harm and their impact upon the child. 

    Refer to the Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources) for examples of relevant harm statements.

    Is it likely that the child will suffer significant harm as a result of exposure to FDV (danger)?

    To form an assessment that a child is likely to suffer significant harm in the future arising from emotional abuse–FDV, the child protection worker should outline:

    • the perpetrator’s pattern of behaviour including that violence and abuse has been ongoing, and has escalated or continued in spite of the adult victim and/or child’s safety strategies, or service intervention
    • the presence of high risk behaviours such as breach of restraining order, threats to kill, assault with weapons, obsessive controlling behaviour (which are well established in research and evidence as predictors of further violence), and
    • (if relevant and available) the outcome of the interview with the perpetrator such as whether or not they denied the abuse, blamed the adult victim and child and/or demonstrated a willingness to engage in safety planning. 

    To assist child protection workers to make this decision, the following information is available in the Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources):

    If the child protection worker assesses that it is likely that the child will suffer significant harm in the future if nothing changes, a danger statement must be developed. The danger statement must identify the person who is using violence as the person responsible for likely future danger and clearly specify the behaviours that cause us to be worried. 

    Refer to Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources) for examples of relevant danger statements.

    What needs to happen – is a safety plan required?

    A safety plan is always required in cases where the child protection worker has assessed that future danger is likely. For further information and developing safety goals, engaging safety networks, and working with professionals to manage risk, refer to Chapter 2.3: Safety planning - emotional abuse - family and domestic violence.

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    Mappings or other meetings involving family

    Mappings and/or other meetings must not be held jointly with the adult victim and the perpetrator of FDV if:

    • the victim and perpetrator are separated
    • a police order, family violence restraining order or protective bail conditions prohibits contact
    • the adult victim is frightened, intimidated or controlled by the perpetrator, or 
    • the child protection worker has assessed that a joint meeting is not likely to be a safe, suitable or effective approach to engaging either parent.

    In circumstances where a mapping or other meeting involving the adult victim and the person using violence (or members of their family), is being conducted, child protection workers must carefully plan and manage how information obtained from the adult victim and child is used and represented. This should be discussed with the adult victim prior to the meeting.

    For information about safely engaging the adult victim refer to Managing Safe Client Contact with the Department (in related resources).

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    Recording ASH for Family and Domestic Violence

    This section should be read in conjunction with  Chapter 2.2: Assessing and classifying a person responsible (PR) or person assessed as causing significant harm (ASH)

    Classifying a perpetrator of family and domestic violence as a Person Assessed as Causing Significant Harm

    Where significant harm to a child has been identified and criteria for Assessed as Causing Significant Harm (ASH) has been met, the person using violence should be recorded as ASH.

    When assessing whether the individual is a continuing significant risk to the child or other children, consideration should be given to the risk posed by the perpetrator if the couple resumed the relationship, if the perpetrator applies to the Family Court for parenting orders, or if he should commence a relationship with a new partner who has children in her care.  

    Classifying a victim of family and domestic violence as a Person Assessed as Causing Significant Harm

    Perpetrators are solely responsible for their choices to use violent and abusive behaviour.  Only in very rare or exceptional cases should a victim of family and domestic violence be ASH. This is because the adult victim is not responsible for, or capable of, stopping the perpetrator from using violence. In many circumstances, the nature of the perpetrators coercion, control and ongoing pursuit of the victim, means that the adult victim and the children are regularly reviewing risks and attempting to manage 'safe' contact.  

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    Recording family and domestic violence in Assist

    Consistent recording of family and domestic violence in Assist is essential for the clear transmission of information as well as for data extraction and monitoring.

    Duty interactions

    Child protection workers must assume that family and domestic violence is a factor in the case, and seek information at the earliest opportunity to confirm or refute this assumption. This can include searching our records (including Assist, Objective and triage data bases), clarifying information with the referrer, or asking the child's mother (or other female caregiver) the family and domestic violence screening questions. The outcome of this inquiry must be recorded in the 'initial assessment' field and should include a brief description of the screening process (e.g. summary of relevant history or outcome of screening questions); and the decision regarding further assessment. Outcome options include: 

    • no family and domestic violence identified;
    • family and domestic violence identified but no significant harm apparent; or
    • concern for a child, emotional abuse - family and domestic violence.

    Where a duty interaction relates to family and domestic violence, there are two primary issue selections that could be recorded from the 'Primary Issue' drop-down list, either:

    • domestic violence; or
    • child protection.

    When 'child protection' is selected it is essential that the abuse type recorded for the child is 'emotional abuse – family and domestic violence'. For the child's parents, the issue and/or detail should be recorded as 'family and domestic violence'.

    Safety and Wellbeing Assessment

    When recording safety and wellbeing assessments, 'Nature/s of Concern' is populated from the issue/s recorded against the child in the Interaction.

    If 'emotional abuse - family and domestic violence' is identified subsequent to the interaction and is being assessed as part of the safety and wellbeing assessment, it must be added as a 'nature of concern'. A case note should be raised with the title "FDV Screening Case Note" with a brief summary of relevant information.

    At the completion of a safety and wellbeing assessment child protection workers must indicate whether alcohol, drugs, homelessness, family and domestic violence, mental health or disability have contributed to harm to the child by selecting 'yes' or 'no' from the drop down menu in the 'significant issues grid'. The option of 'unable to assess' should only be selected where an assessment cannot be completed (e.g. if the family moved away before the investigation could be completed).

    Open Cases

    Where family and domestic violence is identified for the first time, a new interaction should be recorded in relation to the family and domestic violence.

    For further information, refer to Family and Domestic Violence Recording Guidelines; and Family and Domestic Violence Screening Guide (in related resources).

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    Financial assistance - family violence assistance to leave

    Financial assistance through the Family Crisis Program can be provided to assist adult and child victims escape a perpetrator of FDV. Assistance can include:

    • transport for urgent medical treatment, to a refuge or other safe place, to a police station for assistance or to obtain a restraining order
    • accommodation costs necessary for immediate safety where no refuge accommodation is available, and/or
    • meals/other expenses when accommodation is required.

    For further information, including how to apply, expenditure amounts and recording in assist refer to Financial Assistance – Family Violence Assistance to Leave (in related resources)

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