Domestic abuse risk assessment

Risk assessment is crucial in helping to deal with domestic abuse and keep people safe

Reasons for assessing risk

The levels of threat, danger and violence need to be identified and established to ensure the most appropriate course of action as well as the victim’s safety. It is important to evaluate the risk in light of the history of the relationship and the victim is most likely to be able to predict the perpetrator’s level of threat, patterns of behaviour and likely reaction to different types of intervention. 

DASH risk indicator checklist

Hampshire has adopted a tool called the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour Based Violence (DASH) risk assessment checklist that all agencies should use with their clients, particularly if they need to be referred to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC). (The DASH risk indicator checklist and other tools and support documents can be accessed on the SafeLives website.)

We recommend that all organisations routinely employ risk assessments with their clients. It is good practice to complete the DASH risk indicator checklist, as this is used on a multi-agency basis across Hampshire, along side the Police, the Integrated Domestic Abuse Service for Hampshire (IDASH) service and the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy (IDVA) services.

A central feature of any risk assessment should be the survivor’s fears for their own safety: the victim has the most detailed knowledge of their perpetrator. However, risk assessments are not predictive and there is no accurate procedure to calculate or foresee which cases will result in further harm or homicide. It should also be remembered that risk is not static: as circumstances change, so do risk levels.

How to approach risk assessment

Establish a dialogue with your client about risk

The list of risk factors should be used sensitively as part of a conversation with your client. Try to establish trust and create an environment where you can enter into a dialogue with your client about their safety and the risk of ham being faced. Discussion about the risk factors also provides an opportunity to discuss what protective strategies or safety plans have been used by the victim or survivor to protect themselves and the children to date.

Make informed judgements

The risk of harm in domestic abuse situations is dynamic: it typically changes over time. The ‘checklist’ of risk factors provided in the DASH checklist should be used as a framework to help you make informed professional judgements about the likelihood and severity of harm to which your client may be exposed.

Private and secure environment

When conducting a risk assessment, you should ensure that the perpetrator is not present and that it takes place in a private and secure environment with no other individuals present who may hinder disclosure (for example in the case of children).

What to do with your completed risk assessment

  1. Refer the case to MARAC if the assessed risk level meets the MARAC threshold. Complete a MARAC referral form and contact your local MARAC coordinator.
  2. Discuss a safety plan with your client.
  3. Refer your client to other relevant agencies, in particular the Integrated Domestic Abuse Service for Hampshire (IDASH) service 
  4. If allegations of child abuse are disclosed, there is a statutory duty to take action to protect those children and referral to Children’s Services and the Police would be the normal course of action to pursue.
  5. If there are no children involved and the risk indicator checklist indicates that a criminal offence may have been committed by the perpetrator, then the victim can be encouraged to seek help from the Police. The Police can also signpost victims to other support agencies who may be able to provide specific support and advice.

The most important point for professionals to consider is that doing nothing is not appropriate.

It is also important that a safety plan is discussed in light of the risk assessment.

How to approach risk management and safety planning

Be aware of your agency's policy for responding when a client discloses domestic abuse

As a general principle, all agencies working with people affected by domestic abuse, whether they are specialist in the field or not, need to be aware of the risk of further harm faced by victims/survivors and children and what their responsibilities are to act to protect them.

Take steps to assist your client in managing and reducing the risk they face

Risk management plans should address what protective actions, if any, need to be taken now; what longer term actions are needed; which agencies can offer specialist or longer term assistance or support.

Safety planning

One of the most important steps a victim of domestic abuse can take is to make a safety plan. You can use the following tools to help a victim consider the options and plan for their safety.

Ask some of the following questions and record actions:

  • In what way can I (and others) help you?
  • What do you feel would help you keep safe?
  • Do you have any concerns about your children’s safety?
  • What have you tried in the past to protect yourself and your children?
  • Did any of these strategies help?

General safety advice

  • Arrange where you might go if you have to leave urgently.
  • Find places where you can quickly and safely use the phone.
  • Always carry a list of numbers with you in case of an emergency.
  • Try to save money so that you have bus or taxi fares in an emergency.
  • Get an extra set of keys for the house/car.
  • Keep the keys, money and anything else you may need in a safe place, should you have to leave quickly.
  • Talk to your children. Let them know it’s not their fault. Children do not have to see abuse to be affected by it. They hear it, sense it and can be sad and frightened by it.

Talk to friends, relatives, your doctor, nurse or others about how you feel.

If someone decides to leave home, they should consider taking:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificate
  • School records
  • Medical records
  • Driving licence
  • Car documents
  • Money
  • Credit cards
  • Cheque books
  • Benefit books
  • Rent books
  • Passports
  • Work permits
  • Visa
  • Medications
  • Several days clothing
  • Personal possessions with sentimental value
  • Children’s favourite toys

Also consider taking advice and guidance from the Integrated Domestic Abuse Service for Hampshire (IDASH) – they are experts in domestic abuse risk management and safety planning.

DASH risk indicator checklist and other tools

SafeLives website risk assessment resources