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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 21, No. 2
April 2016

Worker Safety When There Is Domestic Violence

Use the following suggestions, which are excerpted from North Carolina's child welfare policy regarding domestic violence (Chapter VIII, section 1409), to keep everyone--including yourself--safe when working with families struggling with domestic violence. CPS involvement, in particular, may increase the risk to the family and the social worker, due to the threat it poses to the abuser's control of the situation.

Mitigate Risk
Extreme caution should be used when intervening with a family when there is confirmed or suspected domestic violence. Strategies for intervening more safely include:

  • Conducting interviews with law enforcement,
  • Cellular telephones, pagers; and
  • Working in pairs.

Recognizing Possible Abusers
Following are possible signs of an abusive or violent personality type:

  • Constant blaming of everyone except themselves
  • Obsessive behavior--jealous, accusatory
  • Makes threats--of suicide, violence, kidnapping, harming those who attempt to help
  • Stalking
  • Presents as a victim
  • Vengeful (e.g., makes a baseless CPS report against the non-offending parent/adult victim)
  • Powerful or claims to be powerful (may report having friends in positions of power such as police, wealthy friends/family, etc.)
  • Paranoid/hypersensitive
  • Criminal record of violent offenses
  • Belligerent toward authority figures
  • Current alcohol and drug use
  • Access to weapons; training in martial arts or boxing

Prior to a Home Visit
If the alleged perpetrator of domestic violence exhibits behaviors that suggest heightened risk, it is not advisable for a home visit to be made until the following guidelines have been considered:

  • Talk to the social work supervisor/DV consultant about the concerns and begin safety planning.
  • Consider taking law enforcement or a co-worker to the home.
  • If the abuser has a violent criminal record or is on probation, a probation officer should be contacted and accompany you to the home.
  • When interviewing the family, be aware of triggers that may cause the individual to respond in a violent manner.

Triggers that May Cause a Violent Confrontation

  • Non-offending parent/adult victim is preparing to leave or has recently left.
  • Abuser's degree of access to the adult victim changes.
  • Children will be removed.
  • Abuser has just been released from jail or is facing criminal charges and possible incarceration.
  • Abuser is confronted directly with allegations of domestic violence/child maltreatment.
  • Abuser seeks information regarding family's location.
  • Permanency Planning goal changes to adoption.

Guidelines for Working in High Risk Situations

  • Contact law enforcement if there is a criminal record of violent offenses.
  • It is highly recommended that social workers never meet with the abuser alone. When possible, visit at the office or take a co-worker to the home.
  • Notify a co-worker that a potentially dangerous client is coming to meet and when and where the meeting will be held.
  • Whenever possible, have multiple exits in the meeting room, in case you need to leave quickly.
  • Have security nearby if at all possible; know the agency's procedures in emergency situations.
  • Understand that, depending on the abuser's interpretation of the social worker's role, he or she may attempt to manipulate the situation by "charming" the social worker or denying, minimizing, rationalizing, and/or blaming the victim.

Threatening Situations

  • Trust your instincts. If the situation feels unsafe, it probably is.
  • Stay calm. The abuser will try to test limits. Do not engage in a confrontation.
  • End the visit if the abuser's anger cannot be de-escalated by efforts to calm him or her down.
  • Always notify the non-offending parent/adult victim prior to a visit with the perpetrator.
  • Always notify the non-offending parent/adult victim of escalation in the abuser's anger and risk to the children or the non-offending parent/adult victim.

After an Intervention or Incident
Intervening in domestic violence situations can be traumatic. Supervisors should debrief their workers when needed to build workers' capacity to deal with the stress of interacting with the family.

(Olmsted County Minnesota Department of Human Services, as cited in NC DSS, 2008)

Learn More
If you are a child welfare professional in North Carolina, take Domestic Violence Policy and Best Practices in Child Welfare. To register, log in to your account at