Assessing and managing family violence in child protection - advice
This advice provides additional information regarding assessing and managing family violence risk and MARAM requirements and responsibilities.
Document ID number 2459, version 1, 20 November 2021.
See Assessing and managing family violence procedures:
for tasks that must be undertaken.
The presence of family violence is a common risk factor for families involved with child protection.
The child protection practitioner’s response to family violence needs to address the risks posed to the child and adult victim survivor by the perpetrator of the violence and support the adult victim survivor to provide for the ongoing needs of the child.
The impact and effect of family violence on the family is complex, and frequently co-exists with other protective concerns such as drug and alcohol abuse, neglect and mental health issues.
Planning with families to address these concerns requires particular attention to the perpetrator’s patterns of coercive control, and recovery needs of both the child and adult victim survivor.
Family violence perpetrated on the adult victim survivor is perpetration on the child.
Family violence is predominantly gender based, with men most likely to be perpetrators and women and children most likely to be victim survivors. It is also important to acknowledge that family violence may exist in same sex relationships or involve adolescents or women who are perpetrators, and a gendered lens, while important, does not always apply. This advice, while acknowledging the gendered nature of family violence, uses the non-gendered terms ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim survivor’ in recognition that child protection works with various types of families and circumstances.
Child protection is an authorised organisation under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008.
Child protection are required to use the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) framework as part of the risk assessment and develop a risk rating and risk management plan for families affected by family violence. MARAM requirements are embedded into the SAFER child framework used by child protection practitioners in Victoria.
The information contained in this advice is additional to the Risk Assessment - advice and the general case planning information as detailed in Case planning – advice.
The MARAM framework aims to support workers across the family violence service system to better understand their responsibilities to undertake family violence risk assessment and management, including information sharing and working collaboratively.
This includes 10 responsibilities of practice for practitioners working across the family violence service system.
|1. Engage respectfully, sensitively and safely||*||*|
|2. Identify family violence risk||*||*|
|3. Undertake intermediate risk assessment||*|
|4. Undertake intermediate risk management||*|
|5. Seek consultation with specialists||*|
|6. Share information with other services||*||*|
|7. Undertake comprehensive risk assessment|
|8. Undertake comprehensive risk management|
|9.Contribute to coordinated risk management||*|
|10. Collaborate for ongoing risk assessment and risk management purposes||*|
Responsibility three is incorporated into the SAFER risk assessment and documented on CRIS as part of the overall risk assessment.
Responsibilities seven and eight, comprehensive risk assessment and risk management, are not undertaken by child protection practitioners. A comprehensive risk assessment can be undertaken by a specialist family violence worker who is co-located with child protection.
Practitioners use the SAFER children framework which aligns with the MARAM adult and child assessment tools to conduct their risk assessment. Family violence is one of the seven essential information categories under which practitioners seek and store information in CRIS. The risk factors that sit within the family violence essential information category are consistent with the MARAM family violence risk factors, and any serious risk factors are highlighted.
Serious risk factors may indicate an increased risk of the victim being killed or almost killed and identify if an immediate response is required. The evidence-based factors in the family violence essential information category provide a guide for practitioners to seek information and to explore family violence concerns with the adult and child victim survivors, as well as the perpetrator.
In CRIS, as practitioners seek and record information about family violence risk factors from a variety of sources, they note information or evidence in relation to each risk factor. This helps to build a picture of the lived experience for the child, their experience of family violence, to assess the consequence of harm and probability of harm used to make decisions. This information also supports planning for the child and adult victim survivor’s safety.
For example, in the risk factor Child victim survivor has been present during and/or exposed to family violence, a practitioner will record information against the factor such as “Reporter states that child was in the room last night when the father hit the mother across the head. The reporter stated as the child is 18 months old, the child is always in the house when the father yells and screams abusive language to the mother.”
Family violence risk factors are dynamic and can change quickly; practitioners need to keep family violence visible and be active and proactive in monitoring change or escalation in family violence risk factors.
There are three categories of risk factors under the MARAM framework, they are:
- specific to a child and adult victim survivor’s circumstances
- caused by perpetrator’s behaviour towards a child or adult victim survivor
- additional risk factors caused by perpetrator’s behaviour specific to children, that must be assessed independently of the adult victim survivor.
Practitioners seek information across all three categories and use the information gathered to complete a MARAM assessment which is incorporated in the SAFER risk assessment. See Risk Assessment – advice for further information and Assessing and managing Family Violence procedures.
A risk rating is recorded in CRIS for both the child victim survivor and adult victim survivor, they are:
- No family violence identified
- At risk
- Elevated risk
- Serious risk
- Serious risk and requires immediate protection.
Risk management strategies are then prepared to match the level of assessed risk – this involves responding to the level of risk, safety planning with the adult victim survivor and child victim survivor, ongoing monitoring of the level of risk, collaborative practice with other services and agencies. Serious risk factors require an immediate response – this can be within the service system.
Where there is threat to life, follow the Threats to kill a child, parent or carer - procedure and refer to the Threats to kill a child, parent or carer - advice.
The overall MARAM risk rating then informs the overall SAFER consequence of harm and probability of harm judgements, which then informs decisions, including the need to develop a safety plan.
Where harm is substantiated and a case plan developed, the actions table must be clear about the goals and tasks required, and by when, to address the identified concerns.
Practitioners should consult the co-located specialist family violence worker or the child protection senior practitioner (family violence) where support is required to implement appropriate safety measures or for consideration for referring a case to the Risk Assessment Management Panel (RAMP).
A referral to RAMP is to be considered for all cases assessed as ‘serious risk requires immediate protection’ and cases where there is a serious threat to the child or adult victim survivor’s life. Each area has a designated child protection panel member who attends the meetings, usually held monthly. RAMP referrals should be made to the family violence intake team at the specialist family violence service that employs the RAMP Coordinator.
Referral to RAMP is a secondary service response that follows referral to a specialist family violence case manager. A referral is appropriate when it is considered that the development of a coordinated multi-agency plan is essential to keep the victim survivors safe and avert the high risk of serious threat posed by the perpetrator. Practitioners should consult the specialist family violence worker and RAMP coordinator to discuss the possibility of a referral, or where one has already been made, to provide relevant information and discuss meeting outcomes and actions required.
A referral may also be appropriate for an adolescent client who is at high risk of serious threat from their partner.
Where a RAMP has already been held, the plan, including actions required by child protection should be incorporated into the safety plan. Practitioners need to be mindful that the holding of a RAMP is not to be disclosed to the perpetrator due to the high level of risk that this may pose to the family and services involved.
For detailed information on RAMP processes and functions, please refer to the RAMP Operational Guidelines located on The Lookout website (http://www.thelookout.org.au/resources/family-violence-other-professionals/risk-assessment-and-management-panels-ramps).
Practitioners update the essential information categories and consider reviewing the risk assessment should new information be obtained during specialist consultation or at the RAMP meeting.
As well as the physical and sexual risks to the child, a perpetrator’s coercive pattern of control can have a significant impact on the child’s emotional wellbeing and development, either directly or as a result of harm inflicted on the adult victim survivor.
These coercive behaviours (tactics) may include, but are not limited to:
- stalking, surveillance and unwanted contact, including the use of smart phones, internet and social media
- unreasonable and non-negotiable demands
- blaming victim survivors for the violence
- cruelty, including verbal abuse and put downs
- isolation from family, friends and supports
- restricting daily activities, including a child’s education or childcare
- treating victim survivors as objects, possessions
- economic control and exploitation
- controlling access to information and services
- threats and intimidation
- extreme jealousy and possessiveness
- ignoring family member’s needs, opinions and feelings.
Updating the essential information categories with all observations, information and evidence about family violence will continue to build the picture and support planning for the child’s safety.
Family violence can significantly impact upon the adult victim survivor’s self-worth, confidence, parenting capacity and relationship with their child.
When discussing family violence with the adult victim survivor and working to engage and support them, consider the following:
- How has the violence has impacted on their parenting capacity?
- Do they acknowledge the violence and risks to the child/ren?
- What are their plans for the relationship – to continue or separate?
- Are there co-existing protective concerns, such as drug and alcohol or mental health and how have these concerns been impacted by the violence?
- What is their own experience of parenting, is the violence intergenerational?
- What is the impact of family violence on the parent-child relationship?
- What does safe and supportive engagement look like for the victim survivor?
- What is their own self assessed level of risk?
- Are they willing and able to take steps to implement safety – noting that the responsibility for safety cannot be solely placed with the adult victim survivor?
The adult victim survivor’s experience of the violence provides valuable information in relation to their self-assessment of risk and intersectional vulnerabilities, needs and strengths.
Protection and safety
For children and young people, it is important to understand the context of how they are impacted by violence and how they can be supported to strengthen their resilience.
Practitioners consider existing factors of strengths, safety and/or protection and how these can be used as building blocks to increase protection and safety. Caution is required to not rely on existing factors of protection to determine the seriousness of risk without considering the victim survivor’s view of whether the factor can protect them or has previously protected them or a child from the actions of a perpetrator.
Factors of protection must have evidence of demonstrated actions by a parent or carer that either reduce or stop the harm or exposure to harm. Perpetrator accountability is a key consideration when assessing protective factors where there is family violence.
Practitioners update the essential information categories in line with information collected about protection and safety.
Systems interventions which may provide protection:
- perpetrator is incarcerated or prevented from contact
- victim survivor is on the Victims Register for notification of pending release of perpetrator from incarceration
- court dates relating to family law, family violence or other matters involving perpetrator or victim survivor (Remember: court proceedings and outcomes may impact perpetrator risk)
- intervention order is in place and being adhered to
- perpetrator is engaged in a support program.
Practical and environmental protection:
- safe housing
- financial security (access to money or employment)
- health (including mental health)
- immigration status
- food security
- communication safety (including via phone, online etc)
- ability to access community
- connection to advocacy/professional/therapeutic services
- positive and friendly care environment (particularly for children and young people).
- social networks (family, friends, informal social networks)
- healthy relationships
- connection/sense of belonging to community
- culture and identity
- agency of victim survivor
- an individual’s personal skills and emotional resilience.
Planning with the adult victim survivor and the child needs to be accompanied by strategies aimed at holding the perpetrator accountable for their family violence and related parenting practices, in ways that continue to support the adult victim survivor’s and child’s safety.
Safety plans may be developed with the adult and child victim survivor with child protection, a specialist family violence service or other support service. The assessed MARAM risk rating will provide support for the development of an appropriate safety plan. See the phase relevant Assessing and managing family violence procedures for further information on risk ratings and risk management.
How the plan is developed and what is included in the safety plan depends on the family’s situation and the level of risk posed by the perpetrator. This may include when the adult victim survivor:
- is maintaining their relationship with the perpetrator
- is planning to leave the relationship
- has left the relationship.
All these situations have particular risks for the adult and child victim survivors, so safety plans will need to include actions required to ensure their immediate safety in response to the perpetrator’s behaviours. These plans are usually written down and hidden from the perpetrator, however in some circumstances where the perpetrator remains in the family home, a plan may be devised without a written record being kept in the home, for safety reasons.
The perpetrator may be involved in the development of a safety plan identifying their role in making their family safe. However, this would be undertaken separately from the safety plan for the adult victim survivor and child victim survivor and be dependent on the level of responsibility the perpetrator is taking for their behaviour.
Each safety plan is unique, and practitioners are to be guided by the adult and child victim survivor about what makes them feel safe, while acknowledging the safety plan must meet the immediate safety needs of the child. Safety plans are short term and need to be reviewed frequently. A safety plan may include, but is not limited to:
- emergency contacts– professional and personal (for children, how they will reach their emergency contact)
- where the adult and/or child victim survivor will go if they need to leave home (their safe place)
- how they will get to their safe place, who they will notify
- support people – friends, family, family violence services, etc.,
- access to money
- plan for pets.
Child protection may develop a safety plan or plans during the investigation phase, either during the first home visit or subsequently involving other services, prior to substantiation. The need for a safety plan is an indicator that the practitioner has determined that some protective concerns have been substantiated – that the child is at risk and a plan is required to secure their immediate safety.
The work already undertaken with the family and other services in relation to the adult and child victim survivor’s safety can inform the protective concerns and significant decisions for the child as set out in the case plan. Goals and tasks for the perpetrator to address their coercive control behaviour can be detailed and recorded in the actions table, along with actions to address the other protective concerns and needs of the child.
Following substantiation of protective concerns resulting from family violence the actions table will need to address the future needs of the child, based on the current risk assessment and confirmed essential information categories.
Each goal and task need to be expressed in terms that can be understood by the family, so they know what is expected of them.
The actions table should always reflect the way risks are being managed or mitigated. A goal in relation to protecting the child from family violence is to be included. The tasks and actions required to achieve this goal will relate to the perpetrator’s behaviours, including the use of violence and coercive control on both the adult and child victim survivors. It is important that practitioners clearly articulate that the responsibility for protecting the child from family violence rests with the perpetrator.
As with any risk management plan, the actions table should be shared with services engaged with the family, so there is a consistent understanding of risk and safety and a coordinated and consistent response to managing risk.
Information sharing and collaborative practice
The Children Youth and Families Act 2005 permits the sharing of confidential information in particular circumstances. Additionally, child protection is a prescribed information sharing entity under the Family Violence Information Sharing Act 2017. All child protection practitioners and managers have the delegation to carry out these functions. See Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and Child Protection and Information sharing in child protection practice.
The MARAM assessment completed by child protection in CRIS will be a shareable document that can be shared with other agencies, such as police and specialist family violence services.
The MARAM framework aims to support collaborative practice across family violence services including the sharing of information. Practitioners are encouraged to consider the following points about information sharing and collaborative practice:
- Has child protection participated in or arranged a case conference, or at a minimum, discussions with services involved with the family?
- Collaborative risk management increases visibility and knowledge of the perpetrator and facilitates risk management strategies to increase safety for children and their families.
- Has the adult victim survivor and the child victim survivor (when age appropriate) been involved in assessing their needs and referrals to services and supports?
- Has safety planning occurred? Where multiple services and supports are involved, does everyone understand their role and responsibilities in implementing the safety plan?
- For serious risk cases, is a RAMP required?
The causes, presentation and impact of family violence in Aboriginal communities are complex. Interrelated factors such as the grief and trauma of dispossession from land and traditional culture, past institutionalisation and child removal practices (including the stolen generations), and current factors such as economic and social disadvantage have resulted in high rates of family violence in Aboriginal communities. It is critical to understand that these factors, especially past policies of state-sanctioned oppression, forced assimilation, and child removal, have resulted in profound levels of mistrust by Aboriginal peoples in the child protection and justice systems, and this may colour Aboriginal parents’ interactions with child protection practitioners. Referrals to Aboriginal community controlled legal and other services are important to assist protective Aboriginal parents to understand and effectively work with child protection practitioners in the best interests of their children.
Consideration and understanding of these factors provide practitioners with cultural and trauma informed context and represent a first step towards developing the cultural competence required to engage, work with Aboriginal families. This also assists with providing culturally appropriate support and assistance to address the risks and impact of family violence. It is also important to be mindful of cross-cultural challenges in communication and interpreting behaviour, especially trauma-based behaviours, and practitioners are encouraged to seek out further training and advice in this regard.
Recognising the strengths and resilience of Aboriginal people and culture is also important when planning for the child’s safety and future needs as kinship systems and cultural connection to community and spiritual traditions can assist the adult victim survivor to care for their child and recover from violence.
While statistically the majority of Aboriginal victim survivors of family violence are women and children, Aboriginal communities recognise that perpetrators of family violence may not only be intimate partners but can also include any familial or domestic relationship or other relationships of mutual obligation and support, including mothers, fathers, children, aunties, uncles, grandparents and cousins (Humphreys 2007), as well as non-Aboriginal partners as perpetrators. Traditional Aboriginal culture is inherently inter-relational and inter-dependent. It is important to see child and family needs holistically and seek the family’s definition of who should be involved in assessments, interventions or activities.
Aboriginal victim survivors of family violence face multiple complex barriers to disclosing family violence and accessing safety and support. Those barriers include:
- inter-generational trauma
- lack of understanding of legal rights and options, and how to access supports when experiencing family violence
- poor or discriminatory police responses that deter Aboriginal victim survivors from seeking assistance (for example, police responses that misbelieve, minimise or trivialise the violence occurring)
- fear of child removal if disclosing family violence
- mistrust of mainstream support services to understand and respect the needs, autonomy and wishes of Aboriginal victim survivors
- in some instances, community or family pressure not to go to the police or break up the family unit
- poverty and social isolation
- lack of cultural competency and indirect discrimination across the support sector, including lack of culturally appropriate housing options, therapeutic and healing programs; and alienating communication and client/patient approaches by mainstream medical, legal, community services and other professionals. (Djirra, formerly FVPLS Victoria submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, p 23)
The following considerations may assist practitioners in developing a plan to address safety concerns by discussing with the adult and child victim survivors:
- how to maintain their confidentiality
- the sources of safety in their community, including kinship networks and services
- whether they have safe and secure (lockable) accommodation
- how effective mainstream interventions or safety measures such as intervention orders are likely to be, and the importance of obtaining culturally safe, independent legal advice in relation to intervention orders and interactions with police
- whether referrals are culturally appropriate and relevant to their needs, and ensuring that the victim survivor is aware of culturally safe and Aboriginal community-controlled services available
- whether they are at risk of family retribution or ostracism from the community due to involvement of child protection (Department of Families, Fairness and Housing 2013).
Because of the barriers faced by Aboriginal victim survivors and the significant level of mistrust (noted above), the adult victim survivor should be encouraged to have an advocate or support person present for these discussions.
Where protective concerns have been substantiated, Aboriginal families are offered an Aboriginal family-led decision-making meeting as part of the case planning process. Participant’s safety during the preparation phase and the meeting will need to be planned for and managed, in addition to providing the adult victim survivor with culturally safe supports to enable them to have their views heard in the process. See Aboriginal Family-led decision-making program guidelines – advice.
The involvement of Aboriginal services and programs in developing a plan with the family will help provide a culturally informed response. These services may be located within an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation or may be provided as part of an Aboriginal program or unit within a family service or specialist family violence service. Aboriginal services are best placed to respond to the unique needs (including cultural needs), perspectives and barriers experienced by Aboriginal people and to build the trust necessary to work effectively with Aboriginal people. Moreover, Aboriginal people have a right to be offered the choice of accessing a culturally safe service.
Any referral should firstly be discussed with the adult victim survivor to identify any issues or concerns they may have about the referral. To locate and contact Aboriginal family violence services in Victoria see 1800Respect website (www.1800respect.org.au). To refer an Aboriginal parent experiencing or at risk of family violence to culturally safe legal advice and support contact Djirra, Victoria (https://djirra.org.au/) which operates services across Victoria and can facilitate further referrals as required.
CALD families including refugees
Cultural values and immigration status can place CALD families at a higher risk of family violence. For children and families from CALD backgrounds there are additional traumas, experiences and challenges that increase their vulnerability.
Some of these factors may include:
- exposure to violence in their homeland, including civil wars
- spending time in refugee camps or immigration detention
- a change in family power dynamics and gender roles which may challenge the pre-existing family dynamics
- exposure to a diversity in cultures and practice that may challenge family norms and pose a threat to family values and customs
- leaving the family unit is a foreign concept
- coming from a culture or community where family violence is tolerated or having a different perspective regarding what constitutes family violence
- feelings of shame and fear of losing culture
- loss of family networks, extended family and friends
- isolation due to language barriers impacting on seeking assistance
- lack of social capital
- experience of discrimination and racism
- limited or restricted access to resources and supports if they do not have permanent residency
- distrust of people in positions of authority
- lack of knowledge and understanding of Australian legal and support services.
Planning with families from CALD backgrounds is more likely to be culturally responsive if it:
- is informed by a good understanding of the relevant cultural values in relation to children and child rearing
- mobilises and draws upon the child’s and family’s narratives and values
- provides a space for the child and their family to contribute their perspectives on what will work for them in their cultural context, and to talk about their experiences of racism, racist violence and cultural stereotyping
- uses cultural concepts and language familiar to the child and family
- addresses barriers that the family might have encountered in using the services system, including provision of information about Australian laws.
Multicultural services such as InTouch (www.intouch.asn.au) can provide secondary consultations and case management to address cultural complexities and assist practitioners to work with families which is culturally responsive.
It is important to note that the introduction of bi-cultural workers could be either a positive or negative experience for the family due to the possibility of the worker knowing the family, gender issues or differences in faith and politics. These situations need to be navigated with care.
The department’s Cultural Engagement Team provides information and assistance in identifying cultural needs and providing supports and services to culturally diverse children. The team can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
For young people, the Centre for Multicultural Youth (www.cmy.net.au) can provide specialist support services, training and consultancy, knowledge sharing and advocacy.
Practitioners can use the worker safety checklist when planning for visits and working with perpetrators of family violence.
Prior to direct client contact, practitioners and their supervisors can discuss any safety concerns and needs as part of planning, considering the unknowns and working through scenarios.
Supervisors provide support and opportunities for the practitioner to debrief following direct client contact and during supervision sessions.
Secondary consultations regarding complex family violence practice issues can occur to support case planning, worker safety, reflective practice, supervision, this may be with a co-located specialist family violence worker of family violence senior practitioner.
Department of Human Services 2013, Assessing child and young people experiencing family violence: a practice guide for family violence practitioners, Victorian Government Department of Human Services, Melbourne.
Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria 2015, FVPLS Victoria submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, p23. www.fvpls.org
Humphreys, C 2007, Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Challenging Directions for Practice, Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, UNSW. p.24
Mandel, D and Associates LLC 2012, Case planning with Batterers in Child Welfare Cases. www.endingviolence.com
- Assessing and managing family violence in intake
- Assessing and managing family violence during investigation phase
- Assessing and managing family violence during protective intervention phase
- Assessing and managing family violence during protection order phase
- Threats to kill a child, parent or carer
- Conducting the risk assessment
- Reviewing the risk assessment
- Case planning – advice
- Risk Assessment – advice
- Threats to kill a child, parent or carer – advice
- Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and Child Protection - Information sharing
- Information sharing in child protection practice - Information sharing
- Aboriginal Family-led decision-making program guidelines – advice.
- SAFER and MARAM assessment tools - Tools and checklists
- Safety plans - Forms and secure documents
- Ramp guidelines - The Lookout website
- 1800Respect - website
- Djirra, Victoria - website
- InTouch – website
- Centre for Multicultural Youth - website