• Claire Verney

How to Complete Safety Planning with a Family Living with Domestic Abuse

For those families living in a home where domestic abuse is present it is important that a safety plan is in place. This post is designed to take social workers through the steps of completing safety planning with families.

The importance of completing safety planning with families living with domestic abuse

The importance of safety planning

It is important that safety planning is carried out with all families that are living with domestic abuse which should have the children's safety and protection as the primary concern. Where social workers are already working with a family that are remaining together, both the victim and the perpetrator should be included in the planning.

The following is a step by step guide to completing safety planning work with a family when domestic abuse is a concern. This is a tool designed as a guide for social work professionals who attend DV-ACT risk management training. Printable infographics, with more concise guidance and safety rules, are available at the end of this post.

  1. Identify the risk concerns - The risk concerns need to be clearly identified and prioritised so that their is no confusion with the parents about what the issues are and which are the most important. It may be necessary to have an expert domestic abuse risk assessment completed that will set out the risks and make recommendations as how to manage those risks which can be incorporated into the plan.

  2. Have a shared understanding amongst professionals - It is vital that all key professionals involved in the case understand the risk concerns and support the safety plan. This will ensure that there are no mixed messages given to the parents about the risks and the importance of the safety plan.

  3. Agree the actions required to address the concerns- A clear indication must be given to the parents about what is required of them to address the risk concerns. These indicators must be specific and measurable spelling out what they must do, how they can do that and by when (ie show a willingness to make changes by attending a perpetrator programme every week for 26 weeks).

  4. Ensure both parents understand the risk concerns - Both parents need to be clear about what the risks are and  what their responsibilities are. Parents may blame each other or disagree about who poses the main risk this needs to be resolved at an early stage, in particular, it must be clear which parent is the primary protector of the children when risks occur.

  5. Involve suitable others to provide support - It is important to involve others (usually family members from both sides) who can give practical and moral support to the family as well as monitor safety. The supporters should be risk aware and concerned for the best interests of the children. The supporters should be invited to attend certain sessions and be made aware of the risk concerns and what their involvement in the safety plan will be (ie provide time out space).

  6. Identify triggers and agree a safety word - Drawing on previous incidents identify triggers to conflict escalation (a risk assessment should include these details). Examine the cause of conflict with the parents (analysing the worst incident of abuse can be helpful) and help them to recognise when anger is escalating and how they can exit the situation in future. The parents should choose a safety word and agree how to use it.

  7. Develop risk scenarios and alternative strategies - Work with the parents to devise scenarios around their triggers and risky situations. The parents should be actively participating in scenarios that are real and cover the main risk concerns, they can then devise strategies to prevent conflict, using the safety word and safety rules. With the children's safety and protection the primary concern, they need to agree exits in the scenarios and clarify who they can phone or go to in these situations. Ask the parents to draw a map of their home and identify where the children are and how the children can be protected. Read our post on what a safety plan should consist of.

  8. Write up and sign the safety plan - Write up the safety plan by the final session so that the parents can sign this. The plan should be clear and concise with contact details of relevant supporters and professionals with their responsibilities. Bring up the possibility of separation, if there is further violence and one of the parents fails to follow the plan, the other parent needs a personal plan to escape. As fleeing a partner can bring further risk and upheaval to the children encourage the parents to consider agreeing to separate if this is needed.

Safety Rules

It is important for steps 6-8 that safety rules are clear and well known to the parents who agree to follow them as part of the safety plan. Please visit our post on safety rules for parents for these.


Safety planning and safety rules are available on infographics, you can print these yourself from our resources page or contact us to receive copies.

The Coronavirus guidance section of this website gives further assistance on how to help families living with domestic abuse, including; what can be done to help families living in isolation with an abuser, completing emergency safety planning with perpetrators, and advice for separated parents. This section also gives up to date information on the use of remote hearings in family courts, and how DV-ACT assessments are used to safeguard children in care proceedings.

DV-ACT experts are continuing to work throughout the Cornavirus pandemic as usual and are available to discuss cases and complete assessments on both victims and perpetrators. Visit our post how-are-dv-act-completing-assessments-during-coronavirus-crisis to find out how we are currently working.

Helplines and online support

National Domestic Violence Helpline 24/7 – 0808 2000 247

Womens Aid online help for female victims (Monday to Friday 10:00am - 4:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:00am-12:00pm) - https://chat.womensaid.org.uk

The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327

Mens advice online chat for male victims (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – 10 – 11am and 3 – 4pm) - https://mensadviceline.org.uk/contact-us/

Childline - 0800 1111

Childline online service for children or young people experiencing domestic abuse (9am-midnight) - www.childline.org.uk/get-support/1-2-1-counsellor-chat/

NSPCC helpline (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends) - 0808 800 5000 Contact counsellors 24 hours a day by email or online reporting form help@nspcc.org.uk

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428

Respect helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040

About us

DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.

​DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do.

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