Author: Beverley Gilbert
Beverley is a Senior Lecturer in Domestic and Sexual Violence at The University of Worcester.
Beverley has 30 years of experience working in the UK criminal justice sector. She is Founding Director, Operations & Risk Manager for Cohort 4, a women’s peer support organisation in North Warwickshire and for two years was a sessional Expert Domestic Violence Risk Assessor for the Family Courts in London. Throughout 2017-2019 Beverley worked for the Maltese Ministry for European Affairs and Equality by training over 700 multi agency professionals in best practice relating to gender based and domestic violence. She has also delivered risk training to Malta’s specialist Domestic Violence Social Workers.
LinkedIn: Beverley Gilbert
Expert Domestic Abuse Risk assessment on Fathers who are Perpetrators of Domestic Violence
The safety of children who experience domestic abuse within their families requires specific, evidence based, thoroughly conducted, risk assessment. However, the risk assessments I have read within reports made to the Family Courts have primarily been from the non abusive partner’s perspective. They have assessed the victims’ risk of experiencing harm, rather than including a specific, evidence based, risk assessment with the abusive parent regarding their risk of perpetrating harm. These reports have mostly contained risk opinions based on professional or clinical judgement without a specific, evidence based risk assessment of the abusive parent. Social service reports appear to look at the parents’ relationship relating to the child rather than in terms of domestic abuse occurring within the family. Neither are they ‘configured to hold abusers accountable.’ (Humphries and Stanley, 2006: 180). This can be dangerous when attempting to establish the precise nature of risk of harm in terms of further domestic abuse, usually to the mother and children. The consequences of unsafe contact on children, and on their mothers can be tragic (Women’s Aid, 2016).
Domestic abuse risk assessment relating to the abusive parent should be contextualised and should run concurrently with assessments of victim impact and risk of harm to the children. It should include an evidence base of best practice in perpetrator risk assessment, either within the relationship if it is continuing, or when the relationship has ended. As we know, abuse continues post separation and can be perpetrated via child contact processes (Birchall & Choudhry, 2018:11). Domestic abuse risk assessments should include information from the victim(s) and draw upon multiple sources of information relating to the perpetrator’s background to establish the presence of risk indicators that have an evidence based relationship to domestically violent behaviour. They should contain the abusive parent’s perspectives, their account of the abuse perpetrated and an assessment of the risk of continuation.
It is not easy to find suitable expert risk assessors for the purpose of assessment of risk of harm in domestic abuse cases. In order to prepare expert domestic abuse risk reports to the courts, it is usually a requirement that the expert domestic abuse risk assessor has been a practitioner of experience in working with both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse preferably within a treatment setting. The assessor must have applied knowledge of risk assessment methodology as well as qualifications connected to the dynamics of domestic abuse. Risk assessment must analyse information from a wide range of sources connected to the family, then apply the research literature relating to risk to the specifics of the case. Assessors should be aware of the impact on children of exposure to domestic violence in all of its forms, and of the potential for future harm. There are few practitioners who have this breadth of both academic and practice experience and this may be a reason why there are few available nationally to assist decision makers in assessing safe contact with children. This, coupled with the financial cost, may restrict expert domestic abuse risk assessment being available. Expert domestic abuse risk assessment is a highly specialised area where models and theories from other disciplines, such as social work, mental health et cetera, may not be readily applied (Ahimsa, 2019). Arguably we need these expert risk assessments to be available to ensure best practice in safeguarding children living with domestic abuse.
Ahimsa Safer Families (2019) Expert risk assessments of violence or abuse within the family. Information for Referrers.
http://www.ahimsasaferfamilies.co.uk/referrers.html Accessed 01/03/2019.
Birchall, J. and Choudhry, S. (2018) ‘What about my right not to be abused?’ Domestic abuse, human rights and the family courts. Bristol: Women’s Aid.
Humphries, C., and Stanley, N. (2006) Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Directions for Good Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Women’s Aid (2016) Nineteen Child Homicides report and Child First campaign. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/launch-of-nineteen-child-homicides-report-child-first-campaign/ Assessed 01/03/2019.