Family violence: Towards a holistic approach to screening and risk assessment in family support services

AFRC Briefing No. 17 – September 2010


Data from parents reported in the Australian Institute of Family Studies evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms (Kaspiew et al., 2009, Table 4.15) suggested that a majority of individuals who seek assistance from most family relationship services in Australia are struggling with the impact of physical violence or emotional abuse on their relationships. This particularly applies to family members making use of post-separation services. For example, large majorities of both men and women clients of family dispute resolution (mediation) and children's contact centres reported the experience of some form of violence (See Table 4.5, Kaspiew et al., 2009). In line with these findings, several studies in Australia (e.g., Brown, Frederico, Hewitt, & Sheehan, 1998; Kaspiew, 2005; Moloney, Smyth, Weston, Richardson, Qu, & Gray, 2007) have found that amongst those separated couples who make applications to a family law court, allegations of violence are made in the majority of cases.4

On this basis, and with increasing knowledge regarding family violence and its risk factors, attention has turned to the best methods for screening and assessing clients. There are currently many more questions than answers regarding effective strategies to make a judgement about the existence of and level of risk that family violence poses to any individual client. In fact, a considerable lack of clarity and agreement exists regarding the use of relevant terminology alone, similar to the debate surrounding the definition of family violence itself. Questions exist regarding who should be conducting assessments, who is being assessed and for what, and how and why family violence should be assessed. The remainder of this paper explores these questions and the current status of research to address them.


4 In the Moloney et al. study (2007), the severity of the allegations was also assessed. Most were found to be of a serious nature. The study contains a summary description of each set of allegations  (pp. 148–171).