Risk Factors for Children in Situations of Family Violence in the Context of Separation and Divorce

5. Risk assessment strategies and tools

5.1 Assessment process

Since research has indicated that violence does not end with separation or divorce, risk assessment is essential for courts and court-related professionals (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Jaffe et al., 2003).  In fact, an adult victim and/or child may be at greater risk for future violence during the point of separation (Jaffe, Campbell, Hamilton & Juodis, 2012).  Judges and other court-related professionals (e.g., custody evaluators) need a risk assessment to determine the level of risk an abusive parent poses to the safety of the family (ACWS, 2003).  The level of risk assessed should help determine child custody and access arrangements that will ensure the safety of the adult victim and the children as well as limit potential opportunities for the abuser to manipulate, control, and further victimize the family.  In order to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment that will inform safe custody and access arrangements, an individualized approach needs to be taken with multiple sources and methods being employed (ACWS, 2003).

Jaffe et al. (2008) propose that three basic factors be considered when assessing risk that are relevant to developing parenting plans with families experiencing violence at the point of parental separation or divorce: the potency, pattern, and primary perpetrator of the violence (also known as the PPP assessment). Potency refers to the severity and dangerousness of the violence which includes the threat of future violence, particularly during a separation or divorce when the risk is substantially higher (Jaffe et al.; Geffner et al., 2009).  This factor should be the first to be assessed in order to implement immediate safety measures if required.  There are several domestic violence risk assessment tools that are used to determine a person’s risk for perpetrating serious and/or lethal violence (see subsection 5.5 for further information). Many of the risk factors identified in section 2 are included in these standardized risk assessment tools.  A thorough risk assessment includes a combination of different risk assessment tools, interviews with the family including the perpetrator, adult victim and child, and reliance on the clinical judgment of the assessor.

The second factor to consider is the pattern of coercive control and domination by the perpetrator (Jaffe et al., 2008).  Prior incidents of violence can be an important indicator of potential future violence as well as the extent of trauma experienced by the child(ren) and adult victim.  The assessed results of this factor can indicate the kind of interventions that are needed for the family (e.g., substance abuse treatment; batterer intervention program; therapy).

The third factor to be considered is whether or not there is a primary perpetrator of the violence as opposed to the violence being mutually instigated by one or the other parent on different occasions (Jaffe et al., 2008).  If one parent is identified as the primary perpetrator, risk management strategies for that parent can be put in place.

Johnston, Roseby and Kuehnle (2009) included two more factors to the PPP assessment making it the P5 assessment.  The two factors are parenting problems and preferences and perspectives of the child.  Assessing parenting problems includes evaluating both parents in terms of their capacity to provide the child with consistency, stability, warmth, and appropriate authority; their responsiveness to their child’s needs separate from their own; their ability to reflect on their child’s experience as a victim of violence; and their ability to be accountable and repair the damage.  The fifth P, preferences and perspective of the child, involves including the child’s perspective when developing the parenting plan by having the child weigh in on the benefits and risks of the potential plan.  However, when including the child’s perspective, it is important for professionals to consider if the expressed wishes of the child are reasonable and/or mature, if the wishes are based on experiences with the abusive parent, if the child’s fear or anger towards the abusive parent is so severe that the child feels or behaves unsafely, and if the child is inordinately distressed by the potential plan to be put in place (Johnston, Roseby, & Kuehnle, 2009).

There are other key issues to assess when determining custody and access plans in the context of family violence (Geffner et al., 2009).  These issues include the perpetrator’s level of accountability for the use of violence, including their readiness to change and an understanding of the impacts of violence on the children (Geffner et al., 2009).  Some batterer intervention programs use the Transtheoretical Model of behaviour change (TTM; Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross, 1992) in order to predict change among perpetrators of domestic violence (Scott & Wolfe, 2003).

The TTM model hypothesizes that there are five basic stages of the model that reflect an individual’s attitude and behaviour toward change: 1) precontemplation, individuals who are resistant or unmotivated to change because they are uninformed about the consequences of their behaviour or they have tried a number of times to change but failed; 2) contemplation, individuals are intending to change during this stage and are more aware of the consequences of change; 3) preparation, individuals plan to take action in the immediate future and usually have some sort of plan; 4) action, individuals make specific modifications; and 5) maintenance, individuals work to prevent relapse but do not apply as much change processes as individuals in the action stage (Velicer et al., 1998).  Research has found that men, attending a batterer intervention program, who are in the precontemplation stage of change (PC) show little positive change in empathy, communication, or abusive behaviour after program completion compared to men who attended program and who were in the contemplation and action stages (Scott & Wolfe, 2003).   However, with appropriately modified and targeted intervention, men in the PC stage can benefit from batterer intervention programs (Scott, King, McGinn, & Hosseini, 2011).

Mental health concerns, substance abuse, trauma, and anger should also be assessed for both parents in order to determine whether these issues impact their capacity to properly care for their children (Geffner et al., 2009).  However, it is important to note that adult victims may experience these issues as a result of their abuse and the stress of dealing with the perpetrator in court.   A separation from the perpetrator, appropriate supportive interventions, and the resolution of the court proceedings may lead to improvement in overall functioning and parenting behaviours (Jaffe, Crooks & Bala, 2009).  It is also important for an assessor to consider the impact of the violence on the adult victim and how it can affect the overall judgment/appearance of the victim during the assessment.  Often adult victims may appear “guarded” or “uncooperative” for a number of reasons including the fear that the violence may be worse after disclosure of abuse allegations as well as a lack of confidence in the court system intervening in a helpful manner (Jaffe et al. 2008).

5.2 False allegations and parental alienation

In some cases of separating couples where there are child custody and access disputes, one or both parents may make allegations of family violence.  In a small percentage of cases, a parent may make a false or exaggerated allegation of family violence in order to gain an advantage or seek revenge on their ex-partner.  One Canadian study that tracked child maltreatment investigations from the 1998 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect found that only 4% of all cases were considered to be intentionally fabricated with this rate being three times higher (12%) in cases that involved a custody or access dispute (Trocme & Bala, 2005).  Moreover, only 1.3% of the false allegations were made by a custodial mother against a non-custodial father compared to 21.3% made by a non-custodial father against a custodial mother. Research has indicated that allegations of domestic violence or parental substance abuse are more often substantiated than allegations of child maltreatment.  Furthermore, allegations of domestic violence and substance abuse are more likely to be substantiated against fathers than against mothers (Johnston, Lee, Olesen & Walters, 2005).

Mothers who make allegations of domestic violence often have a difficult time substantiating their claims in the court proceedings (Rahman & Track, 2012).  This difficulty arises from insufficient corroborating evidence. A victim of domestic violence may present poorly in court because she is suffering from trauma symptoms related to her history of violence and she is presenting as angry, distrustful, suspicious, and uncooperative to the courts (Rahman & Track, 2012).

One common type of allegation made in custody or access disputes between high conflict separating couples is parental alienation.  Parental alienation is described as a child’s rejection of a parent with no justification based on the brainwashing of a child by one parent against the other parent (Kelly & Johnston, 2001).  Gardner (1987, 1992) originally described parental alienation as a diagnosable disorder in the child that occurs in the context of a custody dispute but the term has not been accepted as a recognized diagnosis (Pepiton, Alvis, Allen & Logid, 2012).  The original model of alienation suggested that the mother is usually the parent that brainwashes the child against the father and that mothers also commonly make false allegations of child sexual abuse (Kelly & Johnston, 2001).

A study that examined allegations of child abuse (i.e., neglect, physical/verbal, sexual), domestic violence, and parental drug/alcohol abuse in custody disputes found that allegations against mothers and fathers had almost identical rates of substantiation implying that mothers are no more likely than fathers to allege unsubstantiated abuse against their child’s other parent (Johnston et al., 2005).  However, mothers were found to make more substantiated allegations of adult abuse against fathers and fathers were seen to make more substantiated allegations of child abuse against mothers.

When there is a history of domestic violence in child custody and access cases, Jaffe et al. (2008) stated that the abusive ex-partner often attempts to alienate the children from the mother by asserting blame for the separation, sabotaging family plans, and undermining parental authority.  A mother who has legitimate concerns about her ex-partner’s abusive behaviours and who is reluctant to agree to liberal access to the child may be seen as alienating the child from the father, contrary to the general family law principle that each parent should promote the child’s relationship with the other parent. Her behavior, however, may be better understood as protecting the child from her ex-partner’s volatile and abusive behaviour (Jaffe et al, 2008).

5.3 Who assesses?

Experts who were interviewed for this report identified several agencies and professionals who are best positioned to assess risk: educators; child welfare professionals; psychologists; social workers; healthcare professionals; psychiatrists; shelter workers; victim advocates; agencies that provide interventions for abusive men; family court counsellors; and clergy.  Some experts felt that family law lawyers did not have a very good understanding of risk assessment.  Other experts felt that most agencies and professionals that come into contact with families experiencing violence should assess risk.  The challenge in the field is having an agreement on which tools to use and how different systems communicate risk amongst themselves.

The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) (2003) submitted a report to the Ministry of Children’s Services on keeping children safe when dealing with custody and access issues for families affected by domestic violence.  The report provided an outline of an approach to domestic violence risk assessment.  Within this approach, the ACWS recommended that assessors be trained in the dynamics of domestic violence and that the court/judge should have a responsibility to consider the opinion of the assessor and the authority to expedite their recommendations around parenting arrangements that serve the best interests of the adult victim and the children (ACWS, 2003).

5.4 Assessment tools

Experts who were interviewed for this report felt that risk assessors should use a mix of evidence-based tools that are culturally competent, flexible, and look at the family as a whole including their strengths and protective factors.  Some experts felt that child protection tools do not speak to the risks inherent in domestic violence cases and that there needs to be tools developed that assess whether children are being used as pawns in separation cases.  Experts highlighted the following tools as particularly helpful:

One stakeholder identified the following website, “The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)” that lists tools, some of which may be suitable for general risk assessment, others for more detailed assessment when exposure to domestic violence is known or suspected. The NCTSN was established by the U.S. Congress in 2000 with the purpose of bringing a singular and comprehensive focus to childhood trauma.  The mission of the NCTSN is to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families and communities throughout the U.S. by raising awareness of the scope and serious impact of child traumatic stress on children and youth; advancing services and interventions by creating trauma-informed developmentally and culturally appropriate programs; working with established systems of care to ensure a comprehensive trauma-informed continuum of accessible care; and fostering collaboration to ensure knowledge and skills become a sustainable national resource.  The website provides a database of reviews of tools that measure children’s experiences of trauma.

5.5 Domestic violence tools

Domestic violence risk assessment can be defined as “the process of gathering information about people to make decisions regarding their risk of perpetrating domestic violence” (Kropp, Hart, & Belfrage, 2005).  Risk assessments allow professionals to identify persons at risk for perpetrating serious and/or lethal violence with the overall goal of targeting prevention and intervention efforts (Otto & Douglas, 2010; Stith & McMonigle, 2009).  Generally domestic violence risk assessment tools fall into one of three approaches: unstructured clinical judgment, structured clinical judgment, and the actuarial approach.  The unstructured clinical judgment approach involves a professional collecting information and interpreting a level of risk based on their subjective judgment.  The structured approach involves professionals following a set of guidelines that include specific risk factors that have been determined by empirical evidence.  Finally, the actuarial approach involves obtaining a risk score by conducting an algorithm on the presence of specific risk factors which are assigned a numerical value (Northcott, 2012).  As stated earlier, there are approximately 31 domestic violence risk assessment tools utilized by criminal justice personnel across Canada (Millar, 2009).   In a meta-analysis of the validity of domestic violence risk assessment tools, the Danger Assessment (DA; Campbell, 1986), the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA; Hilton et al. 2004), and the Spousal Assault Risk Assessment (SARA; Kropp & Hart, 2004) were identified as notable tools currently being used in Canada (Hanson, Helmus & Bourgon, 2007).

As previously mentioned, there are significant risks for psychological and physical harm for children exposed to domestic violence including the risk for lethality.  Reviews of homicides in the context of domestic violence reveal that children may become victims of homicide particularly when there is an actual or pending separation between the couple (Bourget et al., 2007; Jaffe et al., 2012; Marleau et al., 1999).  Currently, however, there are no specific tools used in Canada that assess a child’s risk for lethality in the context of domestic violence.  One study examined the effectiveness of risk assessment tools currently being used with adult victims of domestic violence (DA, ODARA, and B-SAFER) in identifying a child’s risk (Olszowy et al., 2013).  Domestic homicide cases with child victims only were compared to cases with adult victims only.  The findings indicated no significant differences between child domestic homicide cases and adult domestic homicide cases for all three risk assessment tools.  This study reiterates the assumption that if the mother is at risk for lethality, children may also be at risk.  Unfortunately, research has shown that few cases of domestic homicide showed evidence of any formal risk assessment completed prior to the homicide and even less had a specific assessment of child risk (Hamilton, Jaffe & Campbell, 2013).

5.6 Child maltreatment tools

Child protection services may become involved with separating parents when one of the parents or a third party reports child abuse allegations or domestic violence in the home.  Child protection workers will likely investigate.  However, some child protection workers may be reluctant to be drawn into a child custody or access dispute because of their suspicions that the allegation is exaggerated to assist the reporting parent in gathering incriminating evidence.  Nonetheless, child protection professionals may engage in a risk assessment process.  Risk assessment is a key component of child protection practice, with risk judgments informing decisions about the speed of investigation, the nature of service offered to families and the level of intrusiveness of child protective interventions.  The history of risk assessment in child welfare is very different from its history in the domestic violence field. Whereas in criminal justice and social services addressing domestic violence, there has been a fairly steady progression towards the development, application, and confidence in risk assessment tools and technologies, in child welfare, there has been no such gradual linear process. Instead, ideas regarding the most effective methods for assessing risk have been heavily debated; escalating at times into what has been described as “risk assessment wars” (Bauman, Law, Sheets & Graham, 2005; 2006; Johnson 2006a; 2006b).  Given ongoing controversy, it is difficult to pinpoint and describe best practices in child abuse risk assessment.  Nevertheless, some review of historic and current risk assessment tools and technologies is warranted.

As in the criminal justice field, work in child abuse risk assessment was originally prompted by cognitive psychology research on the errors and problems that result when relying on clinical judgment.  Accordingly, in the 1980’s and 1990’s a number of child abuse risk assessment measures were developed.  These measures are generally classified in the literature as either theoretically or empirically-guided approaches (also called consensus-based approaches), where risk is assessed based on an established set of risk factors but combined into an overall assessment of risk based on clinician judgment or actuarial approaches. A number of “hybrid” measures were also developed.  Some of the most prominent measures developed were the Washington Risk Assessment Matrix (WRAM), and the California Family Risk Assessment model (CFRA).  These measures involve rating items classified into various domains and then using domain scores to make a clinical judgment about level of risk.  For example, on the WRAM, social workers rate 37 items (scale of 0 to 6) that fit within seven theoretical domains: child characteristics; severity of abuse/neglect; chronicity of abuse/neglect; caretaker characteristics; caretaker/child relationship; socio-economic factors; and perpetrator access, and then tabulate an overall score by adding ratings.  The California Family Risk Assessment has 23 social worker rated items that fit within five theoretical domains: precipitating incident; child assessment; caregiver assessment; family assessment; and family-agency interaction.  Once again, ratings are summed and the social worker uses these summed scores as a guide for deciding the overall level of risk.  Fewer actuarial instruments gained attention in the literature, with one notable exception being the Structured Decision Making (SDM) risk assessment tool developed by the Children’s Research Center (CRC). The SDM is an actuarial assessment, which consists of two subscales each of 10 items. On this measure, each item is scored as a 0, 1 or 2 and summed to classify the family into a low, moderate, high or very high-risk category. This measure is used across many Canadian provinces, US states and also across much of Australia (Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2007).

There has been ongoing research on the reliability and validity of the above-described measures. Although studies have established that the use of either a consensus-based or an actuarial system to guide decision-making improves predictive validity over worker judgment alone (generally for re-referral), rates of false positives and negativesFootnote 1 are still quite high.  Moreover, reviewers have concluded that the overall predictive performance of risk instrument models is disappointing, with less than a third of the variance in maltreatment recurrence explained by the factors included in such measures (Baird & Wagner, 2000; Camasso & Jagannathan, 2000; Knoke & Trocme, 2005). In addition, significant problems have been documented in inter-rater reliability, construct validity (i.e., the degree to which the tool measures what is claims to be measuring) and implementation (Knoke & Trocme, 2005; Lyons, Doueck & Wodarski, 1996). Slightly better predictive validity results have been shown for actuarial instruments, and in particular the frequently used Structured Decision Making tool (Baird et al., 1999; D’Andrade et. al., 2005; Stewart & Thompson, 2004).

Another significant issue for the development and adoption of risk assessment instruments in child protection practice has been debate about appropriate outcomes (Cicchinelli, 1995).  There are many complex decisions made in child welfare services over the life of a case, including assessing immediate and longer-term risk, making substantiation decisions, prioritizing cases, determining the type of services needs and determining critical points in the case such as child removal and case closure (Douecket al, 1993; Wald & Woolverton, 1990; English & Pecora, 1994). Shlonksy & Wagner (2005) have suggested that such assessments represent at least two distinct, but inter-related processes: assessing the level of risk of future harm for particular children and a contextual assessment of child and family functioning to inform casework decisions and service planning. In reflection of these multiple needs, risk assessment instruments developed in more recent years have evolved from a focus on a single matrix or scale to a model that includes screening criteria at intake, safety assessment, risk assessment, needs assessment and guidelines and/or processes related to ongoing case planning including transition and reunification assessments. The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, for example, has among its required tools a Safety Assessment, a Family Risk Assessment, a Family and Child Strengths and Needs Assessment, a Family Risk Reassessment Tool, and a Reunification Assessment Tool (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2007).

These multi-component, multi-purpose risk assessment systems in use today have been subject to less research on their predictive validity than the individual scales discussed earlier.  Instead, research on these systems has tended to focus on either smaller components of assessment (such as an empirically tested tool that is embedded within a series of tools) or on issues with implementation.  Numerous problems have been documented.  For example, on the basis of a study of the Ontario system, Regehr et al. (2010) found that there was considerable variability in worker ratings of risk on the assessment instruments given the same scenarios. Other implementation research has found that risk assessment tools are often completed after the assessment decisions have been made, and function as the system of documentation rather than a system for guiding decision making (Fluke, 1993). Other recently published studies and commentaries have argued that utilization of risk assessment measures fit with organizational needs for accountability, but function to promote a culture where professional practice is being excessively controlled and proceduralized, and resulting in an undermining of the development of expertise in front line workers (Gillingham & Humphreys, 2010; Munro, 2010).

In summary, the history and development of risk assessment instruments in child protection differs significantly from that in the domestic violence services.  Moreover, there is not a set of generally accepted and implemented tools with levels of reliability and validity that are deemed acceptable by the field.  There are ongoing calls in the child protection field for further development and testing of risk assessment instruments; however, given ongoing controversy around risk assessment in child protection, any new instrument is likely to be highly scrutinized prior to acceptance.

5.7 Choosing a risk assessment tool

As discussed above, there are several tools to assess risk in the context of family violence.  However, empirical research has found several limitations to specific tools or has not been able to identify whether one tool is better than another (Northcott, 2012).  Therefore, professionals need to decide which risk assessment tool is most appropriate to use for their intended purposes.  Some factors for professionals to consider when determining which assessment tool to use include:

  • The goal of the assessment (e.g., to predict recidivism, to prevent violence);
  • Whether the assessment is victim-centred or offender-centred in order to implement a safety plan, risk management strategies, or both;
  • The time it takes to complete the assessment particularly if a quick response is required;
  • The skill and experience of the professional conducting the assessment and their comfort with the specific risk assessment tool being used;
  • The information required to complete a thorough assessment (e.g., interviews with the victim and children);
  • The recognition and acceptance of the tool in certain professional settings (e.g., family court); and
  • What the research literature has stated about the strengths and limitations of the tool (Northcott, 2012, pg. 13).

5.8 Overlapping assessment for child maltreatment and exposure to domestic violence

There has yet to be a tool that assesses risk for both child maltreatment and exposure to domestic violence.  Most tools used by child protection assess for overall maltreatment and do not identify whether the maltreatment occurred in the context of domestic violence (Shlonsky & Friend, 2007).  Child protection risk assessment instruments often ask questions about a history of domestic violence in the home; however if child maltreatment is not identified in families experiencing domestic violence, domestic violence itself may not be seen as a serious risk factor for children except in extreme cases where there is lethal violence or the children are suffering from severe neglect and emotional distress. Furthermore, tools used by child protection workers do not consistently assess for current or historical incidents of domestic violence in the home (Shlonsky & Friend, 2007).

Similarly, domestic violence risk assessment tools do not assess the risk posed to children.  Most tools include a single question on whether or not the abuser has threatened to harm the children (DA; Campbell, 1986; ODARA; Hilton et al. 2004; SARA; Kropp, Hart, Webster, & Eaves, 1995).  However, the purpose of identifying the presence of this factor is that it has shown to signify an increased risk for the adult victim, not the child.

According to Shlonksy and Friend (2007), there are multiple challenges when combining risk assessment for child maltreatment and exposure to domestic violence.  Frontline workers may question who their client is: the child, the abused parent, the abusive parent, or all three?  The answer to the question may depend on the mandate of the professional or agency responding to abuse allegations as well as their interpretation of their child abuse reporting responsibilities.  There may also be some debate in defining when domestic violence becomes child abuse and when exposure to domestic violence is reportable to child protection services.  There are considerable tensions amongst child protection services and violence against women agencies about who is at risk and what interventions are required.  There is little agreement about what risk assessment tools should be utilized.  Nonetheless, there is agreement that there is a large overlap with exposure to domestic violence and child maltreatment and each dimension of risk needs to be looked at independently to properly assess the potential harm that children face in these circumstances (Shlonsky & Friend, 2007).  To date, there has only been one known tool (Domestic Violence Risk Identification Matrix) that attempts to assess the risk to children in the context of domestic violence within a child protection framework which is described in the section below.

5.9 One approach to understanding risk and developing interventions

In 2002, the Ontario government supported the development of Children’s Aid Societies (CAS)/Violence Against Women (VAW) Collaboration Agreements in order to increase collaboration and communication between the VAW and CAS sectors.  Since that time, progress has been made in both sectors on working to bridge the differences in philosophy, mandate and approach to service delivery; supporting activities between the two sectors; committing to mandatory training; providing domestic violence intake teams within CAS organizations to create more effective communication; developing a team approach to abused women; and developing a collaborative service plan with abused women and their children (Ministry of Community & Social Services, 2011).  However, in 2010, representatives from Children’s Aid Societies and Violence Against Women sectors provided feedback on the CAS/VAW collaboration agreements to the Ministry of Community and Social Services (see Consultation report) and recommended some strategies for improvement. One suggested strategy was to develop a common risk assessment process to be used by both CAS and VAW sectors that is also appropriate for use in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.  Although this idea has not been actualized in Canada, there is one model practice that is being used in the United Kingdom. This assessment strategy, called Barnardo’s Domestic Violence Risk Identification Matrix (DVRIM), assesses risk for children exposed to domestic violence, and risk for adult victims experiencing domestic violence, and outlines when CAS interventions are required. This strategy is used by both the CAS and VAW sectors and is an example of CAS/VAW collaboration within risk assessment.

The Barnardo’s Domestic Violence Risk Identification Matrix (DVRIM) was developed and implemented in the United Kingdom.  The DVRIM is the only known tool that assesses risk for children exposed to domestic violence and provides appropriate interventions based on the level of risk assessed.  Principles guiding this model include: making child protection a priority; protecting the non-abusing parent (usually the mother) helps to protect the children; providing resources and supports will help protect and care for the children; need to hold perpetrators accountable for their abusive behaviours; and respecting the rights of the non-abusing parent to direct their life without placing their children at risk for further abuse (Healy & Bell, 2005, p. 3).  Evidence of domestic violence, risk/vulnerability and protective factors are identified within the matrix tool and combined to produce one of four thresholds and corresponding interventions. The thresholds identified are: Moderate – the children and family likely need targeted support from a single practitioner;  Moderate to Serious – the children and family likely need integrated support by more than one agency which should be coordinated by a lead professional; Serious – children’s social services should consider conducting a more in-depth core assessment to determine what other types of services are necessary to assist the child and family, safeguarding procedures may be initiated if the threshold of significant harm is reached; and Severe – children are suspected to suffer significant harm and a child protection plan will be implemented if concerns are substantiated (HM Government, 2013; Stanley et al., 2011).

To determine the threshold or risk level the child and adult victim are in, assessors need to examine how the risk factors are clustered (e.g., if a cluster of risk factors fall under the ‘serious’ and/or ‘severe’ thresholds, the child and adult victim will require child protection services and safety plans).  The DVRIM incorporates specific child risk factors and factors related to adult victims of domestic violence based on empirical research and evidence from child death reviews.  The overall objectives of the DVRIM are to: assist multi-agency and social services staff to identify risks to children exposed to domestic violence; assist multi-agency and social care staff in deciding if a case is in need of a protection response or family support; help staff make appropriate interventions for children, the non-abusing parent and the perpetrator; provide a specific domestic violence risk assessment format with initial and core assessments within social care; and provide a model of safety intervention for women and children (Bell, n.d.).

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