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2.3.4 Responding to perpetrators of emotional abuse - family and domestic violence

Last Modified: 22-Mar-2022 Review Date: 01-Jul-2019


Support child protection workers to engage and respond to perpetrators of emotional abuse – family and domestic violence (FDV).

Note:  'The Department' refers to the Department of Communities.



  • When assessing and responding to emotional abuse–Family and Domestic Violence (FDV), you must, where possible and appropriate:
    • interview the perpetrator to inform the child safety investigation (CSI)
    • identify the perpetrator as the person responsible for the concern/harm in all recording including narratives, harm statements, danger statements and safety goals
    • involve the perpetrator in development of a separate safety plan that is focused on the behaviours he needs to demonstrate to be a safer father, and
    • work collaboratively with a safety network composed of community members and professionals to reduce or manage the risk posed by the perpetrator.
  • Before engaging with the perpetrator, you must discuss contact with, and be informed by, the adult victim. The discussion should:
    • explore the risks associated with the Department's contact with the perpetrator, and
    • identify strategies to reduce or manage potential risks to the child and adult victim.
  • You must avoid potential collusion with the perpetrator.
  • You must consider using powers granted under the Restraining Orders Act 1997 to apply for a Family Violence Restraining Order (FVRO) on behalf of the child against the perpetrator if:
    • the violence is likely to escalate and the child is at risk of further abuse
    • a FVRO is considered to be a safe and suitable tool to support safety planning; and/or
    • it would decrease risk to the adult victim if the Department was the applicant for the FVRO.


Process Maps

Information and Instructions

  • Overview
  • Worker safety
  • Consultation with the adult victim
  • Language and recording
  • Engaging the perpetrator
  • Holding the perpetrator accountable when there has been no contact with the Department
  • Overview

    Perpetrator accountability is greater than engagement. Accountable practice is about how case workers conceptualise and respond to the concerns identified. It is not a single ‘event’ but an ongoing process that includes taking a position of partnership with the adult victim and child to promote safety while avoiding language and recording that mutualises responsibility for violence and taking action to reduce or manage the risks posed by the perpetrator.

    Accountable practice is underpinned by the following core principles:

    • Safety – child, adult victim, and worker safety is paramount. Safety is the primary consideration of all work with perpetrators of FDV.
    • Responsibility – perpetrators of FDV are held responsible for their use of violent and abusive behaviour.
    • Choice – using violent and abusive behaviour is a choice. Perpetrators of FDV choose to use violent and abusive behaviours; equally they are capable of choosing not to use violent and abusive behaviours. Alcohol, drugs, mental health issues, stress, anger or traumatic childhood experiences can escalate violence and abuse but they are not a cause.

    For further information, refer to pages 12-15 of Perpetrator Accountability in Child Protection Practice and Invisible Practices: Working with fathers who use violence (practice guidance).

    The procedures outlined below are intended to support you to conduct assessments and undertake safety planning that promotes perpetrator accountability. The practice guidance is for cases where the perpetrator is in a relationship with, or separated from, the adult victim. Engaging and responding effectively to perpetrators following separation or relationship breakdown is critical for promoting child safety, as separation is known to be a time of escalated violence and risk.


    Worker safety

    You must be familiar with the Department's  guidelines on worker safety, and refer to Administration Manual 3.3 Dealing with aggressive behaviour by clients 

    If you feel that you are unable to engage with a perpetrator safely, contact should not be pursued. However, you must clearly document the reason for not engaging the perpetrator in the CSI and seek approval from your team leader.

    In situations where you are threatened by the perpetrator, consider whether the perpetrator's behaviour is criminal in nature and if so, making a report to police is strongly encouraged.


    Consultation with the adult victim

    You must consult separately with the adult victim before and after any engagement with the perpetrator to inform:

    • risks or dangers for the adult victim, child or worker associated with engaging the perpetrator
    • options or strategies to reduce or manage the risks, and
    • the best approach to contacting and engaging the perpetrator.

    Language and recording

    Whether the perpetrator is engaged or not, you can hold the perpetrator accountable in the way you conceptualise, record and respond to the case. This includes:

    • clearly identifying the perpetrator as the person responsible for harm (e.g. 'John is violent towards Jill', rather than 'the Department is concerned about domestic violence between the parents')
    • being specific about what behaviours are identified as causing harm (e.g. 'John punched, kicked and yelled abuse at Jill', rather than 'John is abusive towards Jill')
    • avoiding language that mutualises the violence and obscures who is responsible (e.g. 'John  punched, kicked and yelled abuse at Jill',  instead of 'John and Jill were fighting')
    • creating harm and danger statements that clearly identify the perpetrator as responsible for the harm, and/or the Department's worries about future harm (e.g., 'John punched, kicked and pushed Jill in front of the children. This caused the children to cry, feel scared and worry about their mother (Jill)')
    • creating safety goals that clearly identify the perpetrator as responsible for ceasing the violence (e.g. 'John will not punch, kick or yell at Jill', rather than 'John and Jill will stop fighting')
    • avoiding ambiguous descriptions (e.g. do not say 'John will not punch Jill in front of the kids' as it suggests he can do it as long as the children are not present), and
    • assessing the perpetrator as 'Actual Harm Continuing Risk (AHCR) if the criteria is met.

    Engaging the perpetrator

    Child Safety Investigation

    This section should be read in conjunction with Chapter 2.3 Assessing emotional abuse – family and domestic violence and 'Holding Men Accountable' in Perpetrator Accountability in Child Protection Practice (in related resources).

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

    When conducting a CSI in cases involving emotional abuse – FDV, you must interview the perpetrator where safe and possible. The purpose of the interview is to:

    • convey our concerns about his use of violence and its impact upon the child
    • support referral to a men’s FDV service where available (consider the suitability of the Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline if services are not locally available)
    • assess his preparedness to acknowledge and take responsibility for his violence and abuse and the harm it has caused to the child
    • invite and assess willingness to engage in the safety planning to keep the child safe from harm, and
    • monitor and inform the assessment of likely future danger (Note: outright denial, blaming the victim and children, refusal of service and lack of willingness to work with the Department all indicate increased likelihood that the perpetrator will continue to use violence).

    Consider all information gathered from the perpetrator critically in regard to its reliability and accuracy, and use it as ‘additional information’ only in the analysis of information.

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

    A decision not to contact the perpetrator of FDV must be clearly documented in the CSI. This decision must be approved by your team leader. Acceptable reasons for not engaging the person using violence include:

    • unmanageable risk to worker safety
    • unmanageable risk to the safety of the child and adult victim, and
    • inability to contact where all avenues have been exhausted.

    Safety Planning

    This section should be read in conjunction with Chapter 2.3 Safety planning - emotional abuse FDV.

    Where possible, you should engage the perpetrator of violence in the safety planning process. However, the perpetrator should never be part of the adult victim and child’s safety network; they must not receive a copy of the adult victim’s personal safety plan, and careful consideration should be given to whether or not it is suitable for the perpetrator to know the details about the safety plan prepared with the safety network (community and professional). The decision about whether or not to share this information with the perpetrator should be made in consultation with the adult victim.

    Safety planning with the perpetrator is a separate but related process that focuses on what he can do to meet the safety goals and create safety for the child.

    Examples of actions or behaviours that could be included in the safety plan of a perpetrator of violence are provided below. Actions should be tailored to the person and the circumstances of their relationship with the adult victim (for example, in a relationship or separated) and should focus on ways that the perpetrator can demonstrate improved safety through a reduction in violence and abuse. Examples include:

    • not drinking or taking drugs at home, or coming home substance affected if that is where the adult victim and child are
    • leaving the address or walking away if/when an argument starts or the perpetrator feels like he is getting angry or frustrated
    • calling the Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline
    • complying with police orders, family violence restraining orders and bail conditions
    • allowing the victim to leave with the children if she is feeling unsafe, and
    • nominating support persons that can help keep him on track with the agreed actions, and provide practical assistance where necessary regarding access to appointments, accommodation, or a place to cool off.

    For further examples, see 'Elements of a case plan for family and domestic violence perpetrators' in the related resource Perpetrator Accountability in Child Protection Practice

    Note: it is important not to send the message to the perpetrator that violence is acceptable if the children are not present. Any violence perpetrated against a child’s mother is harmful to the child regardless of whether the child witnesses the incident. If the perpetrator can choose not to be violent at work, in the community or in front of the children, he can choose to not be violent at all.

    To assist you to engage perpetrators of FDV in the safety planning process, a related resource has been developed which includes prompts and questions that can be asked, see Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Safety Planning Toolkit (link also in related resources).


    Holding the perpetrator accountable when there has been no contact with the Department

    There may be times when interviewing or meeting with the perpetrator is not possible. This includes, but is not limited to, the following situations:

    • perpetrator is assessed as aggressive and potentially dangerous for workers to engage
    • perpetrator refuses to engage or attend scheduled meetings, and
    • perpetrator cannot be contacted.

    In these circumstances, all discussions, meetings and recording must continue to focus on the perpetrator as the source of harm or danger to the child and adult victim, and safety planning with the safety network should focus on:

    • monitoring the risk and reporting violence to police and child protection
    • swift and consistent statutory responses at every opportunity following a report of FDV such as police and/or corrective services if the perpetrator is on parole or a community based order
    • using available protections within civil, criminal and family law systems such as protective bail, parole conditions, GPS monitoring, parenting orders. Refer to Chapter 2.2 Working with the Family Court in the context of child protection matters
    • restricting or eliminating contact with the child
    • the Department or adult victim pursuing a family violence restraining order on behalf of the child
    • WA Police pursuing a charge of ‘failure to protect’ if the perpetrator has exposed the child to an act of FDV, and/or
    • building supports and protections around the child and adult victim to improve physical security, providing emotional and practice supports, increasing risk monitoring and promoting consistent reporting of further acts of violence or other crimes.