NTV’s Analysis of the National Risk Assessment Principles for domestic and family violence

A review of:

  • Backhouse, C., & Toivonen, C. (2018). National Risk Assessment Principles for domestic and family violence: Companion resource.
  • Toivonen, C., & Backhouse, C. (2018a). National Risk Assessment Principles for Domestic and Family Violence.
  • Toivonen, C., & Backhouse, C. (2018b). National Risk Assessment Principles for Domestic and Family Violence: Quick reference guide.

The National Risk Assessment Principles for Domestic and Family Violence were commissioned as part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (2010-2022). The evidence-based framework is largely built on research toward a risk assessment framework for Queensland, although, as a Federal set of principles it is by its nature fairly ‘high level’. The authors view risk assessment as an ongoing process that is to be integrated with risk management within a coordinated service system. Risk assessment protocols must encompass static and dynamic risk factors, with specific attention being paid to intimate partner sexual assault as a particularly dangerous form of domestic and family violence associated with under-reporting and elevated risk.

Two key tensions emerge from the Companion Resource, which outlines the evidence base and key considerations in the domain of risk assessment as it applies to domestic and family violence. Firstly, the authors recommend combining an evidence-based, actuarial approach with clinical judgement into what they describe as a ‘structured professional judgement’ approach. How structured professional judgement would be interpreted in different professional contexts is a potential source of miscommunication, underscoring the need for interagency accountability within the sector. Secondly, the authors stress the need for shifting responsibility for violence away from victim-survivors – by assessing risk through the lens of perpetrator behaviours – at the same time as advocating a victim-survivor led approach to risk and safety management. Once again, there will inevitably be variability in how different practitioners and agencies interpret the balance between, on the one hand, listening to and being led by victim-survivors and, on the other hand, shifting the responsibility onto the system’s capacity to assess and monitor perpetrators.

That the National Principles leave these tensions unresolved is perhaps unavoidable given their ‘high-level’ status, for these are details that need to be worked out in the drafting and implementation of state-based frameworks. Highlighting these features of an integrated risk assessment regime provides some important parameters for implementation. Although the assessment of need is countenanced in the identification of ‘priority populations’, discussion of this important aspect of risk management is limited and could have been given greater emphasis. Given the timing of their release, there are opportunities for several current state-based risk assessment reform processes to be informed by this set of nine National Principles.