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Systematic Risk Assessment, Safety Planning and Screening

  • Description
  • Promising Practices: Risk Assessment
  • Organizations Providing Tools/Resources
  • Promising Practices: Safety Planning
  • Story
  • Organizations Providing Tools/Resources
  • Promising Practices: Screening
  • Organizations Providing Tools/Resources
  • References

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Risk assessment is essential in safeguarding the safety of women and children fleeing domestic violence: it helps determine risk of re-assault or femicide and guides collaborative risk management. It supports victim safety planning, referrals and advocacy, as well as police monitoring, court resolutions, and offender treatment. As another important part of comprehensive and cross-sectoral risk assessment process universal screening procedures ensure early identification of women and children who are experiencing domestic violence.

Organizations Providing Tools / Resources: Risk Assessment

 Organization/Region  Contact Tools  Interview 
Domestic Conflict Unit, Calgary Police Service
Avril Martin
Acting Staff Sergeant
Edmonton Family Violence Prevention Centre
Linda Thompson
Contact organization for information and resources. N/A

Promising Practices: Risk Assessment

✓ Employs systematic risk assessment and management procedures and tools specifically developed for responding to domestic violence by police, the courts and the social service organizations;

✓ Uses to communicate risk with community stakeholders to ensure that effective safety planning and legal interventions occur, while remaining cognizant of the need to maintain victim privacy and confidentiality;

✓ Supports the use of tools with information gathered from multiple sources, the woman’s own perception of her risk as well as the practitioner’s expert judgment;

✓ Uses risk assessment and management procedures that account for unique characteristics of vulnerable groups (e.g., Indigenous, culturally/linguistically/sexually diverse, those in rural and remote communities, and women with a disability and/or mental health issues);

✓ Uses several valid risk assessment tools that could include ODARA (Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment), SARA (Spousal Assault Risk Assessment Guide), B-Safer and the DA (Danger Assessment Questionnaire and Calendar) and/or FVIR (Family Violence Investigative Report);

✓ Uses professional judgement as well as the risk assessment tools to make decisions with respect to screening and intervention.

Organizations Providing Tools / Resources: Safety Planning

 Organization/Region  Contact Tools  Interview 
A Safe Place
Edmonton / Sherwood Park
Pat Vargas
Executive Director
Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter
Red Deer
Ian Wheeliker
Executive Director

Tosha Duncan
Prevention and Trauma Specialist

Promising Practices: Safety Planning

✓ Has a process in place for development, review and evaluation of safety plans;

✓ Ensures timely and on-going review and revision of safety plans;

✓ Develops and updates safety plans considering risk assessment information from all relevant sources;

✓ Includes in safety plans an emergency escape plan, “If I don’t return” protocol, an opportunity to create a safer environment, a self-care and wellness component; and for families with children, a section ensuring safety and well-being of children;

✓ Uses safety plans that are culturally appropriate and account for the consideration of different groups of women, prioritizing, in particular, Indigenous women who experience a higher risk for exposure to domestic violence;

✓ Has protocols regarding transferring women from shelter to shelter, including shelters in another country;

✓ Uses risk assessment and safety planning information to support integrated and coordinated service delivery and response.

Story: Safety Planning – No Return Protocol

Key elements:

  • The woman decides whether or not she will consent to participation in this protocol.
  • Her ‘high-risk’ behaviour is not judged and is accepted as her life-choice. The role of the shelter is to create safety within the context of that choice.
  • Other services are involved as appropriate.

Ian Wheeliker

Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter

Our shelter is in the process of implementing and mastering a new model called ‘Informed Trauma Practise’.  The aim is to offer women engaged in high-risk behaviours a safe place to stay.  It presents many challenges for our shelter but we know that safety comes first and this has been a valuable tool for us.

I was working with a woman engaged in high-risk behaviours including living on the streets and sex-work.  We conducted a number of assessments which indicated that her path was very unlikely to change.  So we focused on developing practices which could keep her safe, particularly while she was engaged in sex-work on the streets.  One of those practices was to see if she felt comfortable that if she did not return to the shelter within an agreed time period we would have her permission to notify the RCMP.  I was surprised that she agreed.  We have since found that a number of women clients engaged in high-risk behaviour have agreed to similar ideas.  We focus on their consent and ensure they know we are not here to judge but rather to support them to keep safe.  This allows us to build trust with them and is a valuable safety tool.

Promising Practices: Screening

✓ Uses as a standard practice the process of ‘routine enquiry’ or ‘universal screening’, which asks women whether they have experienced violence and abuse;

✓ Ensures that health care providers receive training and can serve as a link for the individuals exposed to domestic violence to community resources, as well as physical and mental health support;

✓ For those women who disclose past or present experiences of abuse ensures that they are linked, in a timely fashion, with proper supports;

✓ Puts in place procedures for mandatory reporting when women disclose instances of domestic violence;

✓ Develops protocols to address the information gap that currently exists in the system to ensure that staff know how to screen for and assist individuals experiencing domestic violence and refer them to resources that meet their needs.

Organizations Providing Tools / Resources – Screening

 Organization/Region  Contact Tools  Interview 
Domestic Violence Program, Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre
Linda McCracken
Contact organization for information and resources.


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  • Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, 2015. Briefing Note for Assistant Deputy Minister’s Information. Review of Fatality Inquiry for Mr. Dwayne Poirier and Ms. Jeanne Heard.
  • Berk, R., Sorenson, S., and Barnes, G. (2016) Forecasting domestic violence: A machine learning approach to help inform arraignment decisions. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 13 (1).
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  • Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (2012). Risk Assessment, Risk Management and Safety Planning Knowledge Exchange. University of Guelph.
  • Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (2010). Training needs of community professionals involved in threat assessment and risk management in domestic violence cases: feedback from an Ontario Multidisciplinary Forum.
  • Department for Child Protection (2011). The Western Australian Family and Domestic Violence Common Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework, Perth Western Australia: Western Australian Government.
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  • Kropp, R. (2008). Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment and Management. Intimate partners violence risk assessment and management. Violence and Victims, 23 (2).
  • Laing, L. (date unknown). Risk Assessment in Domestic Violence. Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse Topic Paper.
  • Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. (2004). Report to the Lethality Assessment Committee Concerning the Pilot of the Lethality Screen for First Responders and the Protocol.
  • McCormick, A., Cohen, I., and Plecas, D. (2011). Reducing Recidivism in Domestic Violence Cases. BC Centre for Social Responsibility. University of Fraser Valley BC.
  • Millar, A., Code, R., and Ha, L. (updated 2013). Inventory of Spousal Violence Risk Assessment Tools Used in Canada. Risk Assessment, Risk Management and Safety Planning. Department of Justice Canada. Research and Statistics Division.
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  • Province of Alberta (2016). Report to the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Public Fatality Inquiry in the death of Corey Jason Lewis.
  • Roehl, J., O’Sullivan, C., Webster D., Campbell, J. (2005). Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Validation Study, Final Report. A report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care (2015). ODARA: Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment.
  • Websdale, N. (date unknown). Lethality Assessment Tools: A Critical Analysis. Applied Research Forum, VAWNet.
    Western Education. Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children. (2012). Risk Assessment, Risk Management and Safety Planning: Knowledge Exchange. Western University: October 17-19, 2012.