Risk assessment: What is it and how can it be applied in family violence?

cover-image Issues Paper 9, October 2015

Authors: Pauline Gulliver1, PhD and Janet Fanslow2, PhD

1 Research Fellow, New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse

2 Associate Professor, Social and Community Health, School of Population Health, University of Auckland; Co-Director, New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse


Key messages

  • Risk assessment must be considered as a piece in the wider puzzle of risk management.
  • Adequate services need to be provided for those considered at “less” risk, so they receive an appropriate response. This also reduces the imperative for service providers to escalate a case, in order to get help for a person.
  • Effective risk assessment and management needs to be grounded in an integrated response system. This needs to have:
    - Underlying principles which shape how practitioners respond.
    - Training for practitioners in the effective conduct of risk assessment and the effective communication of results.
    - Appropriate risk assessment tools should be selected, with monitoring to ensure they are used as intended and that they support risk management decision making. 
    - Clarity of roles and responsibilities for all components of the system.
  • Co-location of professionals for risk management appears very beneficial to facilitate adequate communication. Co-location:
    - Enhances the development of a unique culture which supports increased trust and information sharing between professionals from different agencies.
    - Facilitates the process of risk management planning by reducing turnaround times and enhancing access to services.
    - Where effective colocation is not achievable, clear roles, responsibilities, communication strategies and a common culture around family violence must be developed to ensure a consistent response is provided.
  • Effective communication of risk, using common language, is vital to ensure all professionals understand how an estimation of risk was derived.
    - Training is required across government agencies to ensure there is a consistent understanding of family violence – including understanding definitions and patterns of violence.
    - To develop a common language, training should be shared across government agencies, rather than being delivered within agencies.
  • Effective risk management requires a lead agency to take responsibility for the implementation of planned activities. This lead agency also needs to be tasked with the responsibility of regularly reviewing risk in light of developments.
    - Agencies need to be aware of each other’s roles and responsibilities within the risk management system.
    - Where limitations exist within the family violence risk management system, external resourcing may be required to ensure all risks are effectively addressed.

Recommended citation

Gulliver, P., & Fanslow, J. (2015). Risk assessment: What is it and how can it be applied in family violence? Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, University of Auckland.

ISSN: 2253-3222, published online only.


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