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Risk identification and assessment

Introduction

Risk assessment is based on structured professional judgement. It structures and informs decisions that are already being made. It is only a guide/checklist and should not be seen as a scientific predictive solution. Its completion is intended to assist officers in the decision making process on appropriate levels of intervention for victims of domestic violence.

The introduction of the new Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and Honour Based Violence (DASH 2009) Risk Identification, Assessment and Management Model means that for the first time all police services and a large number of partner agencies across the UK will be using a common checklist for identifying and assessing risk, which will save lives.

The DASH (2009) Model has been developed by Laura Richards on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and in partnership with Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA- now called Safe Lives). It has been endorsed by CAFCASS, RESPECT, GLDVP and the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV). ACPO Council accredited the DASH (2009) Model to be implemented across all police services in the UK in March 2009.

In England and Wales, the police service will use the ACPO DASH and partner agencies the CAADA DASH.

What is the Risk Identification and Assessment checklist for?

The purpose of the checklist is to give a consistent and practical tool to practitioners working with victims of domestic abuse to help them identify those who are at high risk of harm and whose cases should be referred to a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) meeting in order to manage the risk.

Where has the model come from?

The DASH (2009) Model has been built on the existing good practice of the evidence based SPECSS+ Risk Identification, Assessment and Management Model and the South Wales Model which had been piloted and evaluated on many occasions from 2003. The risk factors included are evidence based, drawn from extensive research by leading academics in the field of domestic homicides, ‘near misses' and lower level incidents. Drawing and building upon this existing research, Laura Richards continued to research and develop the SPECSS+ Model to create the next generation of the model on behalf of Association of Chief Police Officers and in partnership with CAADA (now called SafeLives) governed by a Risk Assessment Expert Panel to create one common tool kit. The DASH was informed through the evidence base and is tried and tested. The evidence base includes:

  • a comprehensive literature review
  • data analysis of murders (n=56), near misses (n=450) and lower level incidents (n=106,000)
  • consultation with national and international academic experts and practitioners
  • officer/practitioner and victim focus groups and debriefs
  • extensive piloting in several areas on more than four occasions
  • evaluation
  • continuous review.

A series of extensive usability studies were more recently run in 2008 with three IDVA services, with three police forces and with a number of the partner agencies who attend the Blackpool MARAC. A series of debriefs were held and the learning was fed back into the model. The conclusions were also cross referenced with work undertaken by CAFCASS, RESPECT and RELATE who had carried out a comprehensive evaluation of the previous checklist and who had identified a number of areas for development which have now been addressed.

Who should use it?

The model is a multi-agency tool. However, it is used in different ways by the police and other agencies. For example, for the police service the tool is used by first response staff who are conducting the initial risk identification. It is then used by specialist staff conducting the risk assessment in full. It can also be used by call handlers, station reception officers, custody officers and intelligence staff. For partner agencies the primary user will be front line practitioners working with victims of domestic abuse. This will include both domestic abuse specialists, such as Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs), and generic practitioners such as those working in a primary care health service or housing. The two models of the risk identification checklist and the risk assessment and management tool used by the police are now completely aligned and are based on the same analysis and approach. There are, however, some practical differences in the responsibility held by police officers. The police have to ask the ACPO DASH questions at all incidents and grade them standard, medium or high risk. The first response officer will conduct the initial risk identification and then the specialist staff based in the domestic abuse unit will then conduct the risk assessment in full. The risk tool for police is more extensive covering a full risk assessment and risk management packages, as well as three explicit additional questions relating to children, 11 on stalking and harassment and a further 10 if HBV is disclosed. Partner agencies will use the CAADA DASH. There is a detailed explanation of the referral thresholds in the CAADA risk identification document. For partner agencies (excluding the police who solely use professional judgement), they are based on three principles.

When should the DASH be used?

The checklist should be used whenever a professional receives an initial disclosure of domestic abuse. It is designed to be used for those suffering current rather than historic domestic abuse and, ideally, should be used as a rapid response to an incident of abuse. Risk in domestic abuse situations is dynamic and can change very quickly. As and when things change the risk assessment must be re-visited and reviewed.

Professional judgement: completing the checklist will require the professional's professional judgement. There may be some things that are going on that are not visible in the checklist as the checklist cannot cover every single behaviour. There may also be situations where a victim either refuses to answer questions or answers only a few but the professional may still conclude that they are at high risk of harm.

Visible high risk: conversely, there will be instances where a victim is prepared to answer the full range of questions and CAADA recommend that a threshold of 14 ticks or above is a defensible position to take when referring a case to MARAC.

Number of incidents: there may be instances of escalation of violence where there are numerous ‘smaller' incidents and this too can be a catalyst to taking a case to MARAC, sharing information and getting a better picture of the true situation.

In practice, the more experienced domestic abuse practitioners will tend to rely on professional judgement, whilst less experienced practitioners will use the actuarial threshold as a safety net. The ideal is to get to a position where professionals are trained on the model and therefore are more reliant on their professional judgement. Training is crucial to build the knowledge to understand what the risk factors are and how they co-relate. The context and detail of the behaviour is crucial as well as what the answers to the questions mean.

Why should it be used?

Using an evidence-based risk identification and assessment model always improves decisions being made. It also increases the likelihood of the victim being responded to appropriately and therefore of correctly addressing the risks they face. The DASH Risk Model also gives practitioners common criteria and a common language for risk for the first time. If victims and/or perpetrators move, which they do, they can be easily referred to another MARAC who, having undertaken DASH training, will subsequently have a similar understanding of risk.

How does the ACPO DASH Risk Model work in relation to children?

This checklist is designed to identify risk to an adult victim of domestic abuse. However, children who are living with and witnessing domestic abuse are also at risk of suffering significant harm and this has recently been formalised by Section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. While this is not designed as a risk assessment tool for children per se, it is very likely to identify children who are at high risk of harm and who should be in receipt of additional support. In the Police DASH model there are nine questions in total (Q3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 17, 21 and 26) and in the CAADA model there are five questions (Q3, 7, 9, 14, 23) that relate specifically to children.

The checklist clearly asks that every practitioner who fills this out in relation to an adult victim - and who is aware that there are children in that household - must make a referral to ensure that those children are safeguarded. It is clear that without a risk identification tool for adults the safety of many children will be missed and that referrals need to be made where children are living in households where domestic abuse is taking place.

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