Working with adult perpetrators of family violence

This advice is about engaging and intervening with adult perpetrators of family violence. For the purpose of this advice, the term ‘perpetrator’ is used to describe persons who are alleged to have committed family violence and persons who have been assessed as responsible for harm due to their use of violence. It builds on the advice provided in the specialist practice resource Working with families where an adult is violent - specialist practice resource and should be read in conjunction.

Document ID number 2458, version 2, 6 June 2017.

Introduction

See tip sheet Working with perpetrators of family violence to reduce risk of harm to children for a quick guide on how to engage with perpetrators and tasks that must be undertaken.

Living with family violence compromises a child’s safety, wellbeing and development and can have long-lasting effects on a child into adulthood. Family violence is frequently accompanied by other issues and risk factors that are detrimental to children's safety and development. Children living in violent households are at increased risk of negative outcomes including: depression; anxiety; post-traumatic stress symptoms; interpersonal problems; and behavioural problems. Engaging and intervening with perpetrators of family violence who are birth parents or have an ongoing parenting role, including perpetrators who reside separately from the family but continue to have contact with a child, is an important component of promoting the safety, wellbeing and development of the child and supporting the affected parent to keep the child safe.

A gender lens in the context of family violence is a way of seeing difference in the way women and men experience family violence (Our Watch). Family violence is predominantly gender based, with men most likely to be perpetrators and women and children most likely to be victims. It is also important to acknowledge that family violence may exist in same sex relationships and in carer ‘family like’ relationships in the context of people living with disabilities.  A gendered lens might therefore intersect with other lenses relating to disability, historical trauma and same sex relationships. This advice, while acknowledging the gendered nature of family violence, uses the gender neutral terms ‘perpetrator’ and ‘affected parent’ in recognition that child protection works with different types of families.   

Beyond children, groups that are more vulnerable to being impacted by family violence include women who are young, who live in regional and rural areas, who are Aboriginal, who have a disability and/or are from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Family violence requires a whole-of-system response. Child protection must work in partnership with Victoria Police, the Courts, family violence services, family services and the universal service system to hold perpetrators to account and keep children and affected parents safe. Child protection has a pivotal role in connecting children, affected parents and perpetrators to services. Working with families in isolation or without effective information sharing and consistent, collaborative working relationships across statutory and non-statutory services will limit the effectiveness of the intervention.  

Engaging perpetrators

Why is it important to engage with perpetrators

Child Protection works with anyone in a parenting role. For example, if the perpetrator is the child’s father or stepfather, whether residing at the home or not, child protection must work with him in his role as a father. While we call him the ‘perpetrator’ it is important for practitioners to remember that the goal is to assist him to be the best possible father now and into the future. This can be achieved by assisting him to be accountable, responsible and protective.

The opportunity to intervene and to prevent, or minimise, the risk of violence reoccurring begins from the first contact with both victims and perpetrators of family violence. Child protection practitioners should exhaust all efforts to interview perpetrators of family violence where it is safe to do so for everyone concerned, including the child, affected parent and practitioner. The ability of practitioner’s to understand the level of risk posed by a perpetrator can be greatly enhanced by the way in which they engage with them, as well as other family members.

Engaging with the perpetrator allows the possibility for them to acknowledge their behaviour, to understand the impact upon the affected parent and each of their children and to envisage and develop an emotionally and physically safe way of maintaining a relationship with their family. Engaging the perpetrator also enables working in partnership and alliance with the affected parent, and relevant services, to keep children safe. When perpetrators are not directly engaged by child protection, child protection may be seen as locating sole responsibility for the safety and protection of the child with the affected parent. This can impact on the affected parent’s capacity to protect the child, themselves and their self-perception and parenting capacity.

Engaging with the perpetrator is likely to influence the lens through which practitioners interpret the family situation and work with the affected parent. Engaging with the perpetrator also provides opportunities for promoting behaviour change, such as participation in perpetrator programs.  

See Planning for children's safety where there is family violence for advice about the importance of engaging perpetrators in the case planning process.

What engagement means

Engagement is the development of a connection between the practitioner and the perpetrator where the perpetrator feels understood and fairly treated. It is the first step to move the perpetrator towards a position where they are able to acknowledge their violence and be accountable for their violence against family members. To effectively engage a perpetrator and hold them to account, there usually needs to be a range of services involved.

Engagement with a perpetrator requires the practitioner to maintain a respectful and empathic position with the offender without becoming collusive with their narrative (which may be distorted) about their behaviours.

Aims of engaging and intervening with perpetrators

Engagement with perpetrators should always be purposeful and centred on ensuring the child’s safety and wellbeing. 

Figure 1: Aims of child protection perpetrator engagement (adapted from Browne 2017)

By engaging with perpetrators, as shown in Figure 1, child protection practitioners aim to:

  • prevent inflammatory situations escalating
  • identify family violence, noting it may not be identified in the initial report to child protection
  • minimise the risk of harm and ensure the safety, wellbeing and development of the child (including through supporting the safety, recovery and agency of the affected parent, noting the safety of the affected parent is likely to be intrinsically connected to the child’s safety)
  • enhance the assessment of risk including understanding patterns of behaviour and coercive control, verifying and examining violence-supporting narratives and behaviours and predicting the likelihood of future violence
  • demonstrate a fair and just way of working with all family members
  • hold the perpetrator accountable for their violence against family members
  • build the perpetrator’s understanding about the impact of their behaviour on their child’s safety and wellbeing
  • work collaboratively with service providers and other relevant agencies, including Victoria Police, to refer perpetrators to appropriate family violence services with a view to enhancing their readiness and capacity for change
  • work collaboratively with services and Victoria Police to hold men accountable for their behaviour and ensure the safety of all persons.

How to engage perpetrators of family violence

Child protection practitioners are in a position to influence outcomes for a perpetrator and perpetrators are aware of this. This holding of power will likely be a direct threat to the perpetrator’s own self-view as holders of power in their relationship. Their interactions with a practitioner will be about changing the power balance back to them. It is important, while being open and willing to listen to the perpetrator, practitioners keep in mind that perpetrators can be skilled manipulators. A perpetrator may seek to use a practitioner, or other professionals, to portray themselves as the victim and/or, by befriending a practitioner to further marginalise and abuse the affected parent. Perpetrators may engage in grooming behaviours or position themselves as dominant during their contact with child protection. In order to ‘test’ the information  elicited from contact with the perpetrator, affected parent and other family members, practitioner’s should always access multiple sources of information, carefully correlate them and apply clinical judgement.

When engaging with the perpetrator of family violence during interviews or other meetings, practitioners should be genuine, curious and engaged. This stance should contribute, and not detract, from the ability to ask the perpetrator specific questions to elicit their views on their use of violent and/or controlling behaviours and its impact on each of their children. Practitioners should not act in a judgemental or punitive way and should be willing and open to hearing their experiences and perspectives. Perpetrators of family violence will engage with a practitioner much better if they are interested, curious and willing to listen to them. This does not mean the practitioner is colluding. A practitioner can acknowledge their story without being seen to agree with them.

Quickly assessing the perpetrators perception of the level of their responsibility for their behaviour will guide further engagement conversations with them. Practitioners should consider the following: 

  1. Are they minimising, denying & blaming?
  2. What is their level of motivation?
  3. What is the level of responsibility the perpetrator is willing to take for their behaviour?

Practitioners should engage in reflective practice and discuss the perpetrator’s presentation and behaviour towards them with a supervisor. Reflective practice and supervision are important tools to assist practitioners to understand the impact the perpetrator’s presentation may be having on the assessment of their behaviour.    

Consultation with the specialist family violence worker or senior child protection practitioner (family violence) can assist practitioners to plan engagement with a perpetrator and to ensure any risk this may pose to the child, affected parent or practitioner is managed and minimised. These positions provide expert knowledge and skills in engaging families impacted by family violence and how to navigate the family violence sector. For further information see the Family Violence Child Protection Partnership service description.

Risk is dynamic, wherever possible and safe to do so, engagement with the perpetrator should be ongoing over the course of an investigation or intervention with the family.

Safety remains a primary outcome when engaging with a perpetrator. It is important that practitioners are wary that interacting with perpetrators has the capacity to increase risk for the affected parent, child, other family members as well as the practitioner and other professionals involved. See when it is not safe to engage with a perpetrator below.      

When it is not safe to engage with a perpetrator

Practitioner engagement with perpetrators can unintentionally increase risks to children and affected parents as well as pose risks to the practitioner themselves. For example, if the perpetrator has become aware the affected parent or child has shared information about their behaviour they may perceive this as a loss of control which may increase the risk of violence.

Safety, both personal and to children and affected family members, must always be the paramount consideration when planning to engage with a perpetrator. It is important to take into account the affected parent’s perspective on risk and take this seriously. (As noted above, the affected parent should be provided with assistance from an independent advocate or support service to articulate their views).

If the practitioner determines the level of risk may be increased by undertaking the interview, the practitioner should seek advice from your supervisor, specialist family violence service, or other appropriate parties about planning for and reducing risk prior to the interview. Where the primary concern is for practitioner safety, this may be able to be mitigated by conducting an office interview. In circumstances where there is information to suggest a crime has been committed or there are concerns for practitioner safety, practitioners should contact the relevant Victoria Police Family Violence Unit to discuss alternative approaches to interviewing the perpetrator and keeping the child and affected parent safe.

If risk cannot be managed, practitioner’s must not proceed to interviewing the perpetrator. The practitioner should document the rationale for not interviewing the perpetrator, and the consultation with their supervisor, clearly on CRIS. Where another professional has indicated risk may increase by conducting an interview with the perpetrator ask if they would be able to confirm their concerns in writing and document this on CRIS.  

In circumstances where it is determined that engagement with a perpetrator has potential to threaten the safety of practitioners or increase the risk of harm to the affected parent or a child, practitioners should notify the relevant Victoria Police Family Violence Team and any other relevant services involved with the family. Comprehensive information about the decision not to engage should be provided and alternative approaches to keeping the child and affected parent safe discussed. Consideration should also be given to referring the family to the Risk Assessment and Management Panel (RAMP).  

Where a perpetrator is assessed as too high risk to be interviewed and engaged, practitioners should consider carefully what this means for the risk the perpetrator poses to the child and affected parent. Existing risk assessments should be reviewed and new risk assessments should be undertaken periodically and whenever circumstances change.

‘Hard to reach’ or ‘avoidant’ perpetrators

Perpetrators who are ‘hard to reach’ or avoidant of child protection and other services pose a particular challenge in terms of engagement, risk assessment and risk management. These are the perpetrators who may choose not to attend interviews, who may attend interviews but not engage in a meaningful sense and/or may not be able to be located or contacted. The inability to interview and/or engage a perpetrator poses challenges for comprehensive risk assessment and, as such, may reflect an increased level of risk to the child and affected parent.

Where a perpetrator is avoidant, consultation should take place as soon as possible with a supervisor and practice leader or principal practitioner. Advice should also be sought from specialist family violence services and other relevant services that may have knowledge of the family and perpetrator.

A whole-of-service system response is required to respond to this population and child protection has a pivotal role in mobilising relevant services to manage the risk posed by avoidant perpetrators. For example, there may be other services involved with the perpetrator who are able to lead the engagement with them and encourage their cooperation with child protection. Services may provide child protection with documentation to demonstrate the efforts that have been made to engage and support perpetrators.

Where risk is assessed to be high, or there is insufficient information to inform a risk assessment, contact the relevant Victoria Police Family Violence Team. Provide Victoria Police with comprehensive information about the unsuccessful attempts to engage the perpetrator and discuss alternative options to  keep the child and affected parent safe.

ALWAYS

Ensure a consultation take place with a practice leader or principal practitioner if a perpetrator has not been interviewed. Document this consultation clearly on CRIS. A practice leader or principal practitioner should also be consulted before closing an investigation where a perpetrator of family violence has not been interviewed.

Working with perpetrators who are in prison

Perpetrators who are in prison and who may resume a parenting role or some form of contact with the child or affected parent upon their release should be interviewed and engaged in safety planning over the course of an intervention with a family, provided it is safe to do so.

While perpetrators in prison are likely to have engaged in significant violence, or other criminal activity that may pose a threat to safety, and careful consideration needs to be given to engaging with them, perpetrators who are in prison are in a controlled environment and security personnel are always present. Practitioners should contact Corrections Victoria when planning to interview a perpetrator in prison as part of their information gathering and to confirm safety arrangements for their visit. Where a perpetrator is due to be released from prison, practitioners should consider involving Corrections Victoria in safety planning for the child and the affected parent.

Corrections Victoria develop case management plans prior to the release of a person from prison. Where a prisoner is being considered for parole, planning commences up to 12 months from their release. This planning involves a thorough assessment of the risk of re-offending, consideration of any specialist risk assessments, suitability of nominated address for release and assessment of motivation to participate in a period of parole. Where a prisoner is moving from prison to a Community Correction Order the timeframe to develop a case management plan can be much shorter. 

Information that Corrections Victoria may be able to provide includes what services the perpetrator has been engaged in, if any, whether they have access to parenting support and what their quality of engagement with services and Corrections Victoria is. Where a perpetrator is due to be released, practitioners should discuss with Corrections Victoria what the case management plan is, including any safety plans that have been put in place to manage any risks the perpetrator may pose to the affected parent and child.

Practitioner safety

Practitioner safety is paramount. Child protection practitioners and other professionals must consider their own safety as the foremost concern when planning to engage or intervene with a perpetrator of family violence. Practitioner safety assessments are not static and the risk posed by a perpetrator to child protection practitioners, and other professionals working with the family, must continually be reviewed and discussed with a supervisor. Additionally, practitioners must be aware that heightening the anxiety of a perpetrator has the potential to raise the risk of harm to family members and practitioners alike. In a small number of cases, it may not be safe for the practitioner, the child or the affected parent for the practitioner to engage with the perpetrator. See when it is not safe to engage with a perpetrator below. 

Refer to the following for further information about practitioner safety:

Phases and stages of working with perpetrators of family violence

Planning to engage with perpetrators should follow the components of the Best Interests Practice model and should be recorded in the investigation plan. Like any child protection intervention, practitioner safety is a consideration. Refer to the specialist practice resource Working with families where an adult is violent for a detailed overview of the phases and stages of working with families who have experienced family violence.

1. Information gathering

  • What has happened and what is the pattern and history of family violence (consider the perpetrators relationship with the affected parent and any previous partners or family members)?
  • What information is held by other services that may help inform the initial risk assessment, including any family violence risk assessment and risk management framework (CRAF) assessments undertaken?
  • Is information required from Victoria Police to inform the initial risk assessment? (Noting, requests for criminal history checks, where necessary, should be directed to Victoria Police records services division. Where information is required urgently in matters considered to be high risk, or information is sought about previous family violence reports, contact the local Victoria Police Family Violence Unit.)
  • Is the perpetrator from a diverse background or have intersecting needs such as mental health issues or drug and alcohol issues.
  • Are there any intervention orders or other court orders in place, including Family Law Act 1975 orders?
  • What options are available to keep the child safe?

2. Analysis and planning

  • Does the information gathered support the initial report and/or assessment’s identification of the perpetrator and victim (noting in some circumstances a victim may be wrongly labelled as a perpetrator and vice versa)?
  • Are there any criminal or civil court proceedings underway?
  • Who should be where (safe residency)?
  • What supports should be in place for each member of the family?
  • What referrals are required and for whom?
  • Is a referral to a specialist service provider required?
  • Is the family Aboriginal? If so, ensure a consultation has taken place with ACSASS and culturally appropriate service referrals have been made, including offering the family a referral to an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation with expertise in family violence.
  • How will engaging with the perpetrator impact on the level of risk the perpetrator poses to the child and affected parent? How will this risk be managed? Has the affected parent been involved in the development of a comprehensive and up-to-date safety plan?
  • How do we create accountability for the perpetrator and the ability to work with them?
  • Are we planning for a family that may, or is likely to, reunite?
  • If the family were to reunite what safety plans would be required to minimise the risk posed to the child?`
  • Is all the above possible from an ethical and safe perspective, including cultural safety?

3. Actions

  • What co-ordinated approach can we take to ensure safety of children in family violence situations? Noting safety planning must draw on risk assessments conducted on all parties.
  • Does the safety plan draw on risk assessments conducted in relation to all family members?
  • What actions can be taken to ensure information provided by the child or affected family member is not shared with the perpetrator? 
  • What actions (therapy, safety plans and approaches, men’s work, victim support, culturally specific programs which also acknowledges the potential for a unified approach) will result in a more nuanced (more sophisticated) response in the family violence area?
  • How do we interact with perpetrators in ways that help us understand the issues they are working on – over and above just understanding ‘attendance’ at services or interviews?
  • How do we collaborate with other services (who may, or may not, already be working with the perpetrator) to enable coordinated service approaches that prioritise the safety and wellbeing of the child?

4. Reviewing outcomes

  • What tools can we use to measure behavioural change in the perpetrator?
  • What tools can we use to understand dynamic risk in the circumstances of the case (similar to how we measure and understand risk for sexual offenders, for example)?
  • When we make decisions regarding reunification, separations, placements or other significant responses, how can we ensure these decisions are more sophisticated and targeted to a child and their family’s experiences and circumstances than those that have been made in the past?

Interviewing perpetrators of family violence

Practitioner’s should make all reasonable attempts, where it is safe to do so, to interview a perpetrator of family violence who has, or will have a parenting role in the future.

Practitioner safety

Prior to engaging with the perpetrator of family violence, practitioners should be realistic about risk and practitioner  safety. Plan a safe engagement strategy, in consultation with a supervisor, and consider the setting in which the work should take place to ensure safety. Further information for practitioners about what to do when it is thought to be unsafe to interview a perpetrator is contained in when it is not safe to engage with a perpetrator below. 

Before the interview

Practitioner’s should gather as much information as possible in relation to the perpetrator beforehand. This will assist to develop the interview approach, understand how the perpetrator might behave in the interview and develop plans to address any potential practitioner safety risks. Practitioners should consider gathering the following information:

  • what have current and past family violence risk assessments undertaken, including by specialist family violence services, demonstrated about the perpetrator, their pattern of behaviour and risk?
  • is police intervention required? For example, has a crime been committed or are there serious practitioner safety issues?
  • is there sufficient information in an L17 or criminal history check or is further information from police required to inform the risk assessment?
  • violent and/or controlling behaviour – what is it (pattern of violence, abuse and coercive control) and how many episodes have there been? Who is the violence perpetrated against and does the violence involve children?
  • how dangerous is the perpetrator and what other factors might increase their level of violence, for example access to weapons, alcohol and drug issues?
  • what is the perpetrator’s motivation to end their use of family violence?
  • what is the perpetrator’s motivation to engage with services including child protection?
  • what is the dynamic of the perpetrator’s relationship with the affected parent?
  • does the perpetrator use violence in other situations and towards people other than the affected parent?
  • what is the impact of violence upon the perpetrator’s parenting?
  • what does the perpetrator perceive as the impact of their use of violence on the child?  
  • what is the perpetrator’s relationship with their extended family and community?
  • what has been the outcome of previous attempts to engage the perpetrator, including previous periods of child protection involvement?

The information could be gathered from the following sources:

  • family members, especially affected parents and children, noting practitioners should always interview affected parents separately from perpetrators. Additionally, interview children separately from their parents wherever possible and permitted by their age and stage of development
  • the history of child protection involvement as documented in CRIS, ensuring a CRIS search has been conducted on ‘person responsible for harm’ to identify other relationships and children that may have been impacted by the perpetrator’s use of violence
  • disclosure of criminal records though Victoria Police Records Services Division. In circumstances where the risk of harm to the child or affected family member is assessed to be significant information should be obtained directly through the relevant Victoria Police Family Violence Team 
  • court records of existing and historical intervention orders or Family Law Court orders
  • women’s Family Violence Services – perpetrators may be known by women’s services because of their existing or previous partner’s involvement seeking help (this is a crucial piece of information in regards to assessment of pattern, history and risk of further behaviour)
  • services such as Child FIRST or family services involved with the child or non offending parent as well as schools, kindergartens, day-care, health practitioners
  • extended family
  • details from previous or current attendance, if any, at Men’s Behavioural Change Programs
  • Corrections Victoria

Practitioners should ALWAYS

  • start with a genogram – it will assist to think systemically and gather information about family and relationship histories
  • interview family members separately – interviewing victims and potential victims in the presence of perpetrators legitimises the control and dominance of the family violence perpetrators and may place victims in a ‘no win’ situation
  • interview children separately from perpetrators
  • if possible interview children away from parents (may not be possible or appropriate for very young children)
  • control the setting of the interview, for example ask the perpetrator to come into the office
  • remember what they are trying to achieve and think about the purpose of the questions they want to ask
  • Think about how they can use plain language
  • organise an interpreter if required.

Questions practitioners may consider asking the perpetrator:

  • Have you ever been, or are you currently, involved with other services that have talked to you about your role as a parent or about any other issue which may be currently affecting you and your family? For example drug and alcohol services, mental health services, men’s behaviour change or parenting programs?
  • How have you found your involvement with these services? What were your likes and dislikes?
  • How did you experience parenting yourself? (your parents)
  • Tell me about growing up in your family OR tell me about your parents when you were growing up. (Note, this is a less leading question than ‘did you experience family violence growing up’ and can be followed by another open ended question such as ‘tell me more about that.’)
  • What were your family’s beliefs about women’s and men’s roles and how relationships should work?
  • Describe your (current) relationship(s)?
  • [If any previous known relationships] –Tell me about your relationship with [name]. What happened in that relationship?
  • [To establish the history of the perpetrators parenting] Tell me about raising [child’s name]. What happened when [child] was younger? What has been happening recently?
  • Any there any court orders in place? If yes, from your point of view, why was the order made? OR I see there is a court order in place to [describe the court order of interest]. What happened for the court to issue that order?
  • Using evidence of the perpetrator’s use of violence, for example a court order or the narrative of an L17, ask what do you think the impact of [describe episode of violence] had on:
  • each of your children? Do you think it was different for each child?
  • your relationship with each child?
  • the affected parent?
  • the relationship between the affected parent and the children?

When appropriate, follow-up all open-ended questions with “Tell me more about [disclosed information]” and “What happened when [disclosed information]” in order to probe for further detail on interesting parts of the narrative.

Note: be aware of how questions are framed so as not to collude with the perpetrator and that questions do not increase risk to the child or affected family member.

Remember the purpose of the interview. Practitioners are looking for:

  • Patterns of coercive control and abusive behaviours
  • Severity of harm
  • specific instances of family violence
  • risks
  • frequency of family violence (all forms)
  • duration of the family violence
  • legal outcomes, for example Family Violence Safety Notices, intervention orders, other civil or criminal proceedings
  • impacts on affected family members (as perceived by the perpetrator – noting the perpetrator, where identifying impacts, may seek to minimise them)
  • changes associated with factors that may exacerbate risk
  • level of risk – is it safe for the child and affected parent?
  • ‘hooks’ – in other words – is there anything important enough to the perpetrator that they would change their behaviour ‘because’ of it. For example the thought of losing contact with their children due to violence may be a powerful external motivator to change behaviours
  • level of motivation
  • level of responsibility taken for behaviours

And remember common reactions from perpetrators may include:

  • Denying
  • Minimising
  • Justifying
  • Blaming
  • Deflecting
  • Avoiding

Assessing risk

Assessing risk posed by perpetrators

Family violence risk assessment and risk management framework

In Victoria the Family violence risk assessment and risk management framework (often referred to as the common risk assessment framework, ‘the CRAF’) has been developed to support coordinated and integrated work in the area of family violence. The framework can assist practitioners to keep perpetrator behaviour and risk assessment at the centre of the analysis and planning. Practitioners should consider using the framework to inform their risk assessment for each child. Practitioners should consult the specialist family violence worker or the child protection senior practitioner (family violence) if they have not completed CRAF training or require guidance on how to use the aide memoire tool with the affected parent and child.

The Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework and Practice Guides 1–3 is a manual that aims to support a consistent approach for assessing and managing family violence. It is available on The Lookout website.

The following are evidence based risk factors for perpetrators of family violence as identified in the Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework, note * may indicate increased risk of the affected parent and/or child being killed or almost killed:

  • use of a weapon in most recent event*
  • access to weapons*
  • history of harming or threatening to harm the victim/victims
  • attempts to choke victim*
  • threats to kill victim*
  • history of harming or threatening to harm the children
  • harm or kill children*
  • history of harming or threatening to harm or kill other family members
  • history of harming or threatening to harm or kill pets or other animals*
  • threatened or tried to commit suicide*
  • stalking of victim*
  • sexual assault of victim
  • previous or current breach of an IVO
  • drug and/or alcohol misuse/abuse*
  • obsession/jealous behaviour towards the victim*
  • controlling behaviours*
  • unemployed*
  • depression or mental health issues
  • history of violent behaviour (in addition to/apart from family violence)
  • pregnancy of partner/new birth

Remember

When completing a risk assessment, practitioners should always take into account the risk assessments of each child and affected parent, including consideration of the affected parent and child’s views about the risks posed by the perpetrator. In order to feel safe to freely express their views, the affected parent should be engaged with appropriate specialist supports that can advocate on their behalf as required. This is especially important when the affected parent is Aboriginal. An affected parent who is Aboriginal should always be offered a referral to an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation or other culturally competent service provider with expertise in assisting victims/survivors of family violence.

In a family with multiple children, the level of risk a perpetrator presents to each child may be different and can change over time. As with any risk assessment the level of risk posed to the child should be assessed through the lens of the child’s age, stage and development. However, it is also important to assess the level of risk in accordance with the dynamics of family violence on a case by case basis and the potential for one or more children to be targeted. This could be for reasons including the gender of the child, the child’s relationship with the affected parent, the child’s behaviours or an additional vulnerability such as a disability. Always conduct an individual risk assessment for each child.

In circumstances where there has been a recent separation in the relationship between the perpetrator and the affected parent or an intervention that seeks to manage the risk posed by the perpetrator, for example an intervention order or other court order, the level of risk can acutely increase, and may result in a fatal family violence incident. To reduce and manage risk of further harm, careful and collaborative safety planning should be undertaken with the affected parent, relevant services and, where required, Victoria Police. 

A referral to Forensicare for a family violence assessment may help determine:

  • the level of risk a perpetrator or suspected perpetrator presents to the current partner and child and likely impact of this behaviour on them
  • the extent to which the perpetrator should have contact with the current or ex-partner and child in question and under what circumstances.

All divisional referrals for a Forensicare assessment must be made to the Office of Professional Practice (OPP) on the referral forms, via the divisional principal practitioner (or their delegate). The divisional principal practitioner will discuss the appropriateness of a referral, support the creation of a referral documentation and endorse its progress to the OPP.

More information on Forensicare is available on their website at www.forensicare.vic.gov.au/. Referral letter and supporting documentation is located in Forms.

Making referrals to a Risk Assessment Management Panel (RAMP)

In cases where it is assessed the perpetrator poses a high risk to the affected parent or child’s life, health, safety or welfare, a referral to a Risk Assessment Management Panel (RAMP) may be required. Each area has a designated child protection panel member who attends the regularly held, usually monthly, meetings. 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 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 women and children 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.

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.

Where there is threat to life, follow the Threats to kill - procedure and refer to the Threats to kill - advice.

Referral process and access to services

Child protection has a critical role in creating service linkages for perpetrators of family violence as a means to work as a part of a collaborative service system response, to hold perpetrators to account and to build their capacity to change their behaviour. Sharing risk assessments and risk management strategies with relevant services should be part of the referral process.  It is important practitioners note that a perpetrator’s willingness to voluntarily engage with services may be contingent on their acceptance that their violence poses a risk to others and may change over time. Revisiting the question of service engagement and considering when to mandate it through the Children’s Court, should be determined on a case by case basis in consultation with a supervisor.

For information about family violence services and referral pathways see Family violence services including men’s behavioural change services - service description.

Victoria Police Family Violence Teams

Family Violence teams are comprised of general duties uniform police officers, and provide an immediate response to family violence incidents. Their functions include: conducting proactive investigations; managing cases of recidivist offenders and high-risk clients; monitoring all divisional family violence intervention reports and liaising with external agencies.

Practitioners who are working with a perpetrator of family violence who is assessed to pose a high level of risk to a child or affected parent or who require further police information to inform a risk assessment should contact the relevant Victoria Police Family Violence Team. 

Considerations for good practice

Applying a parenting lens

Maintaining a parenting lens when working with perpetrators is part of being child-focused. For perpetrators who are parents, family violence is a parenting choice. 

Research has found that the perpetrator’s role as a parent, step parent, or carer can be a significant motivator for behavioural change. Language is an important engagement tool. Using words like “father” or “mother” carry very clear roles and motivations. For example ‘what kind of father do you want to be to your children?’ 

Perpetrators must be held accountable to high parenting expectations, consistent with all other parents in the community. Part of holding perpetrators to account for their parenting choices is being able to convey the expectations of good parenting and the consequences of using violence. 

Men’s behaviour change programs discuss the role of fathers as an engagement and motivational tool for behavioural change. This assists men to recognise the impacts of their behaviour on their child and affected parent. Practitioners should be prepared, where it is safe to do so, to talk to the perpetrator about their parenting and to use this as a tool to create safety and change.     

Some men’s family violence services offer parenting programs to men once they have completed men’s behaviour change programs. It is important to note that parenting programs are not a replacement for men’s behaviour change programs but should be complementary.

It is important when appealing to perpetrators as ‘fathers’ or ‘mothers’ not to create unrealistic expectations about the level of involvement the perpetrator may have with the child and affected parent into the future. Encouraging unrealistic expectations may increase and/or perpetuate the risk of violence and controlling behaviours towards the affected parent and child.

Considerations for perpetrators from diverse backgrounds and/or with intersecting needs and experiences

Aboriginal families

The causes of family violence in Aboriginal communities are complex. Interrelated factors such as historical grief and trauma, dispossession of land and culture, institutionalisation, policies of assimilation, child removal (including the Stolen Generations) and factors such as economic and social disadvantage and racism have contributed to significant rates of family violence in Aboriginal people.

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 impact Aboriginal parents’ interactions with child protection practitioners. Consideration and understanding of these factors will provide practitioners with cultural context and represent a first step towards developing the cultural competence required to engage, work with and provide Aboriginal families with culturally appropriate support and assistance to address the risks and impact of family violence.

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.

Aboriginal concepts of violence are much broader than usual mainstream definitions of domestic violence and family violence better reflects Aboriginal people’s experiences (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 2006). While statistically the majority of Aboriginal victims/survivors of family violence are women and children, Aboriginal communities recognise that perpetrators of family violence are not limited to 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 to ask the views of the perpetrator and affected parent, bearing in mind any potential risk, about who should be involved in assessments, interventions or activities (adapted from Miller and Noakes 2010). Practitioners should always seek the views of the affected parent when involving additional family members in efforts to engage perpetrators to ensure risk to the affected parent and child is not increased– noting the affected parent may need the support of a culturally safe and trusted advocate to feel safe expressing their views to a child protection practitioner.   

The following considerations may assist practitioners to engage with perpetrators of family violence who are Aboriginal (adapted from WA 2012):

  • discuss how to maintain their confidentiality
  • discuss their previous experiences of law enforcement and service provision
  • ask what services feel most culturally safe and responsive, and discuss the importance of obtaining culturally safe, independent legal advice in relation to intervention orders and interactions with police.
  • seek to understand any experiences they may have had with racism and/or stereotyping – this may be present or historical experiences 
  • understand the strengths and challenges arising from the close-knit nature of Aboriginal communities. While the closeness can be very positive for families, it can also place additional pressures in terms of felt or real privacy, confidentiality and anonymity.
  • ensuring that Aboriginal definitions of family are respected during assessment, safety planning, case planning and case reviews.
  • take into account the potency and special significance of the threat of child removal in Aboriginal communities.
  • discuss how their involvement with child protection may affect perceptions of them in the community.

The involvement of Aboriginal services and programs when engaging with a perpetrator will help provide a culturally informed response. These services may be located within an Aboriginal controlled community organisation, or may be provided as part of an Aboriginal program or unit within another service. To locate an Aboriginal family violence service in Victoria practitioners should contact their local Aboriginal Controlled Community Service Organisation or contact No to Violence and the Men’s Referral 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.

CALD families including refugees and asylum seekers

Some children from CALD families can be at a higher risk of experiencing family violence. This may be due to reasons including the perpetrator and affected parent’s past experiences of trauma, cultural and social expectations around the roles of men and women in relationships and barriers encountered by people of CALD background when seeking help and accessing services.

Many families, particularly those who have come to Australia as refugees or to seek asylum, have experiences of trauma and dislocation. Some families may have experienced war or persecution in their country of origin and many have significant grief and loss issues. In some cases, children and their families will have been transient for significant periods of time whilst seeking safety.

Further, families from CALD or refugee backgrounds may encounter a range of barriers to participation in Australian society. Some of these barriers will be a result of visa restrictions whilst others are shared by many families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are new to living in Australia. Some common difficulties include:

  • uncertainty about ongoing living arrangements, visa and residential status
  • physical and mental health issues exacerbated by displacement and exposure to violence and trauma in their country of origin, including civil wars
  • a lack of understanding about the role of child protection and a fear of what this may mean
  • distrust of government
  • language barriers and the need for an interpreter
  • isolation and the absence of a social network
  • limited transport access
  • a lack of familiarity with the service system and limited access to government funded services
  • financial issues, inability to seek employment or lack of employment and lack of recognition of skills and education
  • a change in family power dynamics and gender roles which may challenge the pre-existing family dynamics
  • feeling the need to protect the reputation of the family and community
  • different parenting practices and a lack of understanding or awareness of community expectations about parenting
  • racism and discrimination.

For some families these challenges are also risk factors and, particularly in instances where families have little access to support, may increase the likelihood of family violence occurring or a child coming into contact with child protection for another concern. It is important to note that perpetrators of family violence can use some of these difficulties as part of their abuse. For example a perpetrator may convince the affected parent that if they report the abuse they will have their visa cancelled or will be isolated from their community, particularly if the affected parent’s visa status is dependent on their partner, which may be a reason for them choosing not to speak about family violence or seek help. There may also be forced marriage or dowry-related arrangements negatively affecting the power relationship between the affected parent and the perpetrator and/or family. Threats may also be made against the affected parent’s family overseas where Australian authorities will not be able to offer protection. 

Engaging and intervening with perpetrators 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 gender roles, parenting and child rearing
  • is informed by an understanding of the perpetrator’s experiences prior to, and since arriving, in Australia, and provides space for the perpetrator to talk about any trauma or experiences of racism and cultural stereotyping
  • seeks to understand the perpetrators’ awareness and knowledge of Australian laws (including visa situation), child protection, other authorities including Victoria Police and community services
  • addresses barriers that the family might have encountered in using the services system, including provision of information about Australian laws
  • mobilises and draws upon the child and family’s perspectives and values
  • uses cultural concerns and language familiar to the perpetrator.

Multicultural services such as can provide secondary consultations, and case management for the affected parent, as well as behavioural change programs for the offending parent, to address cultural complexities and to assist practitioners to work with families in a way that is culturally safe and 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.

There are CALD specific men’s behavioural change programs for South-East Asian and Arabic men, however these are only available in some areas. More information about these programs is available through the Men’s Referral Service.

Family members who identify as LGBTI

It is important to be mindful that family violence is not unique to heterosexual relationships and that power dynamics and behaviours of coercion, control and violence also exist in same sex relationships. Victoria Police data suggests that same sex couples experience similar rates of intimate partner violence as in heterosexual relationships. However, family violence in same-sex relationships can be under-reported likely due to the prevailing characterisation of family violence as intimate partner violence, typically involving a female victim and male perpetrator. Moreover, many LGBTI people have a fundamental distrust of mainstream services (including health and community services, police and the legal sector) due to fears of institutional or interpersonal prejudice, discrimination or uneducated responses.

People who identify as LGBTI also face unique forms of family violence, including threats to ‘out’ a person, homophobia as a tool of control, refusal to acknowledge gender/sexuality, threatening to disclose HIV positive status, and the withholding of medications such as HIV medication or hormone treatment drugs.

Engagement with perpetrators who have used violence against a same-sex partner should occur in the same manner as with a perpetrator in a heterosexual relationship. It is important to be informed about how heteronormative views of family violence may impact on the way risk is assessed, both by professionals, and others connected to the perpetrator and affected parent. In some circumstances perpetrators may seek to use dominant and misinformed beliefs about lower prevalence or risk posed by violence in same sex relationships to hide, minimise or avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour.

References

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, 2006, Ending family violence and abuse in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – Key issues: An overview paper of research and findings by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2001-2006, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Canberra.

Browne, J 2017, Engaging with perpetrators of family violence in a statutory child protection context: Evidence review, Centre for Evaluation and Research, Department of Health and Human Services, Victorian Government.

Humphreys, C 2007, Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Challenging Directions for Practice, Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, UNSW. 

Miller, R & Noakes, R 2010, Child development and trauma specialist practice resource, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.

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