Children exposed to family and domestic violence can be affected in a range of ways by the behaviours and actions of the person using the violence. Recognition of these behaviours and their effect on children is important to understand the cumulative harm arising from children's exposure to family and domestic violence.
Infants are at increased likelihood of serious harm during family and domestic violence incidents due to being physically harmed by the perpetrator and/or being exposed to the violence, causing emotional harm.
Exposing a child to an act of family and domestic violence is a form of emotional abuse. A child is considered a victim of the family and domestic violence through their exposure. The person responsible for the abuse is the perpetrator of the violence.
Note: CEO refers to the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Communities (the Department).
Duty interactions and initial inquiry
Child safety investigation
Assessing emotional abuse-FDV must involve gathering and analysing information about:
Developing a working relationship with the adult victim
Engaging the perpetrator of violence
Joint meetings involving the adult victim and perpetrator
This entry provides information and guidance about conducting assessments for emotional abuse - FDV. Further information about safety planning, responding to the perpetrator of violence, or seeking a family violence restraining order on behalf of a child, can also be found under Chapter 2.3.
These procedures should be read in conjunction with Chapter 2: Children and Young People are Safe from Abuse and Harm (including Children in Care).
FDV is a factor in the majority of child protection cases. Sometimes it is the primary reason for referral; at other times it is a factor contributing to or causing the presenting problem, such as homelessness or neglect.
Search the FDV Triage Application to identify any reports of FDV involving the parents, other adults living in the home, and/or regular visitors to the home in order to identify or screen out FDV for all cases.
As a general principle, a child’s exposure to a single severe episode of violence or exposure to repeated episodes of violence over time warrant intake for further investigation. Exposure can include witnessing or hearing acts of FDV, seeing the physical injuries or property damage caused by FDV.
Factors to consider when determining whether it is likely that a child has suffered significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm in the future include:
Where FDV has been identified and is not intaked for further assessment, record a rationale for the decision in the duty interaction. At every subsequent contact, complete a new review to decide if a new assessement is required.
If the referral or concern is about one child in the family, the Department must also consider the safety of other children in the household.
Note: the protectiveness of the adult victim is not sufficient reason for the Department not to have a role when it is likely that there has been, or is likely to be, significant harm to a child.
The purpose of an assessment about emotional abuse–FDV is to clarify:
The procedures outlined below are designed to guide the assessment process.
The Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit provides information and examples for child protection workers. It includes questions for interviewing mum, dad and children; determining the primary aggressor; indicators of high risk; sample harm statements; sample danger statements; sample safety goals; guidance about analysing the information obtained and guidance about using research to manage gaps in evidence.
The Interaction Tool should be used at interaction as part of the FDV screening process.
Working with the adult victim
A strong and ongoing working relationship with the adult victim is a priority. You must interview the adult victim alone at least once before a mapping that involves family and before interviewing or speaking to the person who is using violence. The adult victim and child should be the primary sources of information for FDV assessment. The focus of the first interview and ongoing work with the adult victim should be on:
To assist you to develop a working relationship with the adult victim, refer to the following (in related resources):
When exploring existing strengths or safety strategies, remember that victims of FDV are rarely 'passive' in their experience of abuse. Most victims do what they can to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks and to protect any children in their care. This may encompass strategies by the adult victim to avoid and diffuse violence, for example:
You should identify these behaviours as indicators of strengths exhibited by the adult victim. Identifying these and naming them as important protective strategies will help to build a genuine partnership with the adult victim and may promote self-confidence and reduce feelings of powerlessness and helplessness.
Interviewing the child
You must interview or sight the children. Interviews with children should gather information on:
Prompts or suggested questions for exploring these areas with the child, including use of ‘three houses’ are provided in the Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit (in related resources).
Seeking information from partner agencies
Share risk-relevant information and work collaboratively with other agencies when managing the risks posed by the perpetrator. This includes gathering information about the perpetrator’s use of violence, the child’s exposure to violence, and impact of exposure on the child. We have a number of arrangements in place to enable the exchange of information about FDV. A comprehensive list is provided in the Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit.
Engaging the person who is using violence
The person using violence is usually 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 we engage with the person using violence, where safe and practicable.
The purpose of interviewing the person using violence is to:
Note: Outright denial, blaming the victim and children, refusal of service and lack of willingness to work with us all indicate a likelihood that the perpetrator will continue to use violence and harm the adult victim and child.
Consider the reliability and accuracy of any information gathered from the perpetrator and use it as ‘additional information’ only in the analysis of information.
To assist you to plan for an interview with the person using violence, a series of questions and prompts have been developed and are available in Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit.
Clearly document any decision and rationale for not contacting the perpetrator of FDV in the CSI. Your team leader should approve this decision. Acceptable reasons for not interviewing the person using violence may include:
unmanageable risk to worker safety
unmanageable risk to the safety of the child and adult victim, or
inability to contact after all avenues have been exhausted.
Use the opportunity with the person who uses violence to offer them information about behaviour change programs and to refer them to the men's domestic violence helpline MensLine Australia and counselling.
Reporting crimes to the police
Contact the police if you obtain evidence of, or observe an FDV offence. This includes, but is not limited to, breach of protection order (protective bail, family violence restraining order or police order), assault, property damage, failure to protect a child (a perpetrator can be charged with failure to protect if they have exposed their child to FDV), threats to kill, stalking, deprivation of liberty and intimidation.
Determining the primary aggressor
On occasion, the reports/information gathered can indicate that both parents are using violence. In these cases, you should seek to determine if there is a primary aggressor. Primary aggressor means the person who poses the most serious and ongoing threat to safety and wellbeing. This assessment is important as it will inform who we need to work with, and what the primary risks are that need to be managed to promote the safety of the child. For further information, see
Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit
Has the child been significantly harmed as a result of emotional abuse–FDV?
To form an assessment that a child has suffered significant harm arising from emotional abuse–FDV, you need to be able to demonstrate that:
For further information about assessing emotional harm, refer to
Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit.
If you substantiate that significant harm has occurred, you must develop a harm statement. The harm statement should identify the person using violence as the person responsible for the harm and clearly specify the behaviours that have caused harm and their impact upon the child.
Refer to the Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit for examples of relevant harm statements.
Is it likely that the child will suffer significant harm as a result of exposure to FDV (danger)?
To form an assessment that a child is likely to suffer significant harm in the future arising from emotional abuse–FDV, you should outline:
To assist you to make this decision, the following information is available in the
Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit:
If you assess that it is likely that the child will suffer significant harm in the future if nothing changes, develop a danger statement. The danger statement should identify the person who is using violence as the person responsible for likely future danger and clearly specify the behaviours that cause us to be worried.
Refer to Emotional Abuse – Family and Domestic Violence Assessment Toolkit for examples of relevant danger statements.
What needs to happen – is a safety plan required?
A safety plan is always required in cases where you have assessed that future danger is likely. Work with the adult victim, children, family and other professionals to create safety plans and safety networks that reduce or manage the risk posed by the person using violence.
For further information and developing safety goals, engaging safety networks, and working with professionals to manage risk, refer to Chapter 2.3 Safety planning - emotional abuse - family and domestic violence.
Mappings and/or other meetings must be held with the adult victim away from the perpetrator where:
the victim and perpetrator are separated
a police order, family violence restraining order or protective bail conditions prohibits contact
the adult victim is frightened, intimidated or controlled by the perpetrator, or
you have assessed that a joint meeting is not likely to be a safe, suitable or effective approach to engaging either parent.
Carefully consider how information gathered from the adult victim and the child will be shared in a mapping or meeting where the perpetrator or his family are present. This should be discussed with the adult victim prior to the meeting.
For information about safely engaging the adult victim refer to Managing Safe Client Contact with the Department.
This section should be read in conjunction with Chapter 2.2 Assessing a person as Actual Harm Continuing Risk.
Classifying a perpetrator of family and domestic violence as Actual Harm Continuing Risk (AHCR)
Where significant harm to a child has been identified and criteria for AHCR has been met, the person using violence should be recorded as AHCR.
When assessing whether the individual is a continuing significant risk to the child or other children, consider:
Classifying a victim of family and domestic violence as AHCR
Perpetrators are solely responsible for their choices to use violent and abusive behaviour. Only in very rare or exceptional cases should a victim of family and domestic violence be AHCR. This is because the adult victim is not responsible for, or capable of, stopping the perpetrator from using violence. In many circumstances, the nature of the perpetrator's coercion, control and ongoing pursuit of the victim, means that the adult victim and the children are regularly reviewing risks and attempting to manage 'safe' contact.
Consistent recording of family and domestic violence in Assist is essential for the clear transmission of information as well as for data extraction and monitoring.
You must assume that family and domestic violence is a factor in the case, and seek information at the earliest opportunity to confirm or refute this assumption. This can include searching our records (including Assist, Objective and triage data bases), clarifying information with the referrer, or asking the child's mother (or other female caregiver) the family and domestic violence screening questions.
Record the outcome of this inquiry in the 'initial assessment' field and include a brief description of the screening process (e.g. summary of relevant history or outcome of screening questions); and the decision regarding further assessment. Outcome options include:
Where a duty interaction relates to family and domestic violence, there are two primary issue selections that could be recorded from the 'Primary Issue' drop-down list, either:
When 'child protection' is selected it is essential that the abuse type recorded for the child is 'emotional abuse – family and domestic violence'. For the child's parents, the issue and/or detail should be recorded as 'family and domestic violence'.
Child Safety Investigation (CSI)
When recording CSI assessments, 'Nature of Concern' is populated from the issues recorded against the child in the Interaction.
If 'emotional abuse - family and domestic violence' is identified after the interaction and is being assessed as part of the CSI, add it as a 'nature of concern' as soon as practicable. Create a case note with the title "FDV Screening Case Note" and record a brief summary of relevant information.
At the completion of a CSI indicate whether alcohol, drugs, homelessness, family and domestic violence, mental health or disability have contributed to harm to the child by selecting 'yes' or 'no' from the drop down menu in the 'significant issues grid'. The option of 'unable to assess' should only be selected where an assessment cannot be completed (e.g. if the family moved away before the investigation could be completed).
Where family and domestic violence is identified for the first time, a new interaction should be recorded in relation to the family and domestic violence.
For further information, refer to Family and Domestic Violence Recording Guidelines; and Family and Domestic Violence Screening Guide.
Financial assistance through the Family Crisis Program can be provided to help adult and child victims escape a perpetrator of FDV. Assistance can include:
For further information, including how to apply, expenditure amounts and recording in assist refer to Financial Assistance – Family Violence Assistance to Leave.