The Family Law DOORS: A new whole-of-family approach to risk screening

The Family Law DOORS: A new whole-of-family approach to risk screening

11 September 2013

Dr Jennifer McIntosh outlines a risk-screening tool that assists separating parents and professionals to detect and evaluate well-being and risks.

What is the Family Law DOORS?

The Family Law ‘Detection Of Overall Risk Screen’ (DOORS) is a risk-screening tool that assists separating parents and family law professionals to detect and evaluate well-being and safety risks. The tool sits within a wider three part framework that supports practitioners to engage clients in exploration of evident risks, and to plan and share effective responses to risk.

The DOORS tool and framework was developed over several years, through extensive collaboration between Family Transitions (Melbourne) and Relationships Australia (SA), supported by a national team of practitioners, researchers, and international consultants. In 2011, the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department contracted The Australian Institute of Social Relations (AISR; the training division of Relationships Australia, SA) with Family Transitions to further pilot the DOORS for use across the family law system, and to develop a learning guide to support its implementation.

What is DOORS for?

The target population for the Family Law DOORS is separated families in which former intimate partners seek an ongoing parenting role with their children. A version is also available for former partners who do not have children.

The purpose of the Family Law DOORS

The DOORS is a straightforward process that both demystifies and safely structures screening for all professionals working within the family law system. DOORS is a confidential process of risk screening, used at the point of entry into the family law system, and beyond as needed, to monitor safety over time. DOORS is not designed to provide forensic evidence for litigation purposes, but rather to notice and enhance the security of all family members as they navigate the family law system. Client consent to share information allows information to flow between relevant professionals and to be acted on, in a coordinated manner.

What is risk?

In the DOORS framework, risk concerns the likelihood of physical or psychological harm to self and/or other family members, and in the case of children, developmental harm. The Family Law DOORS makes it easier for professionals to notice and evaluate relevant patterns of being at “risk of harm” and being at “risk of harming”.

Why universal screening of risk?

As detailed in the DOORS handbook, the evidence supporting the need for universal, systematic and thorough risk screening within the family law system is well established (McIntosh & Ralfs, 2012). Separation or divorce are associated with increased risk of mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, parenting distress, harassment, threats, violence, and abduction of children. These risks are often cumulative and sometimes combine to create extreme risks to safety and wellbeing. The risk of lethal outcomes are also elevated post-separation, including homicide, suicide and familicide.

Early screening cannot predict or prevent all serious risks to safety. However, research shows clearly that patterns of behaviour associated with serious or escalating risk are usually evident before critical incidents occur. Asking the right questions is key to flushing out patterns of risk that need effective management.

How does the DOORS work?

There are three DOORS within this framework. Each DOOR enables a different level of exploration of risks to safety, parents’ wellbeing and children’s wellbeing and development.

Figure 1. Pathways through the DOORS

Figure 1. Pathways through the DOORS

DOOR 1 provides a standardized parent self-report questionnaire, covering ten domains of risk (see Figure 1). Depending on the needs of the case, the practitioner can choose to screen all domains, or only some. The complete DOOR 1 takes up to 15-20 minutes to complete, using either a software or pen and paper version. Either can be done by the client alone, or in a personal interview.

DOOR 2 provides a summary of risk factors endorsed by the client, together with suggestions to the professional for follow-up discussion, response and planning guides and consent forms for information sharing. When using the program software, DOOR 2 is automatically generated.

DOOR 3 provides detailed information on risk aetiology, including newly commissioned data from the ABS, and guides for follow up assessment, relevant legislation and mandatory reporting requirements, as well as referral network maps.

Where to go for further information

To download electronic versions see The Family Law DOORS website.

More DOORS on the way…

Development is underway on The Couples DOORS for use with intact couples, and The Children’s DOORS, for use with school aged children. Updated versions of the Family Law DOORS, including a web based tool that automates reports and collates client data will be available in 2014.

Visit The Family Law DOORS website for further information and updates.


Very useful for those in private practice as FDR Practitioners.
Stephen J Lewis

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Dr Jennifer McIntosh

Dr Jennifer McIntosh is a clinical child psychologist and research consultant. She is the director of Family Transitions, a clinic devoted to children and parents experiencing family separation or trauma, and the support of professionals working with them. Dr McIntosh holds adjunct positions of Associate Professor at La Trobe University and Senior Lecturer at Melbourne University.

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