This guidance is developed for survivors of domestic violence, but may be adapted for women fleeing other forms of abuse.
Prior to starting a safety planning process with a woman:
- Discuss the purpose and process of safety planning and ask if she would like to go through the process.
- Clarify that she is free to have a safety plan or not, and the decision to act on the plan is her own.
- Provide emotional support during and after the safety process.
- Explain the confidentiality of the information and any legal limits to confidentiality.
- Inquire about only the information needed to plan for the woman’s safety.
Each step of the planning should be done in partnership with the woman seeking assistance, ensuring conclusions and decisions regarding the plan are determined by her.
Review the results of the risk assessment, which should cover abuser and safety support factors, and discuss the relevance of each factor to determine their potential influence on her security and the security of any children or dependents. These factors include:
- Perpetrator factors
- Perpetrator’s violence
- Violent threats, ideation, intent
- Escalation of physical/sexual violence or threats
- Violations of civil and criminal court orders
- Negative attitudes
- Other criminality
- Response to shifts in power and control dynamics
- Employment or financial problems
- Substance use
- Mental health problems
- Other considerations (e.g. significant life changes, access to weapons, current emotional crisis, coping with chronic pain, trained in combat/military service, etc.)
- Safety support factors
- Level of personal support
- Living situation
- Level of fear
- Barriers created by attitudes or beliefs
- Health impacts of the abuse
- Employment or financial concerns
- Child-related concerns
- Substance use
- Access to services
- Responsiveness of services
- Provision of information
- Coordination of services
It is equally important to discuss safety strategies, including:
- Those used in the past and currently being used to keep herself safe.
- Those used by agencies and services when trying to support her.
- How helpful the strategies have been and any barriers experienced when using them.
Develop a new safety plan that builds upon previous strategies she has used and what she has learned from using them. Assist in the creation of new strategies based on the identified risk factors, safety supports and protective measures available to her. These may include:
- Taking specific actions or steps to improve her physical security (e.g. preparing an emergency safety bag; identifying support contacts in the community, etc.)
- Determining measures to secure her basic health, financial and social needs are met (e.g. creating a separate bank account or financial plan, deciding to stay in the shelter or finding longer-term accommodation, etc.)
- Engaging support services (e.g. making a report to police, obtaining a protection order, understanding any supervision measures that are in place for the perpetrator, such as mandatory reporting to a court or parole officer, etc.).
Discuss the factors that may affect implementation of the safety plan, including:
- The level of effort or intervention required to protect her safety (as well as her children and other family members).
- The risk that the abuser will engage in serious physical harm against the woman, her children or other family members.
- Any immediate action that is required.
- When the safety plan should be reviewed and updated (e.g. every month or earlier if a high risk case or when there is a change in the relationship or circumstance.)
(British Columbia Institute Against Family Violence, 2006; Parkes, 2007; Davies, et al., 1998; Hamby and Bible, 2009).
Sample Template: Safety Plan for Leaving (United States)
Date Prepared: Dates Updated:
- In the event that I decide to leave, I will know how to get out safely.
- I have identified what doors, windows, elevators, stairwells, or fire escapes I would use, just as I would in case of a fire. (Use this space to make notes.)
- This is how I would evacuate my family, and the route we would take to get out:
- I will rehearse this escape plan, and as appropriate, practice it with my children at least one time. (Note the dates that you rehearse the plan.)
2. In the event that I need to leave quickly, I will have important items ready and accessible.
- Items I have readied for the Emergency Escape Bags
- Clothing and personal items
- Emergency money (cab fare, quarters for the phone, food, hotel room, etc.)
- Keys (car, house, office, etc.) and Cell Phone
- Credit, debit or check cards, phone cards
- Copies of important documents
- Special toys and/or blankets for children
- Valuable jewelry
- Items of sentimental value
- Pet carrier and supplies, and telephone number of temporary care giver
- Location where I will keep Emergency Escape Bags (self, children, pets):
3. In the event that I need to leave quickly and it is not safe to talk openly, I will have a code word or signal to alert my children that we are going to go, or alert my family or friends that we are coming.
Code Word or Signal I will use:
4. In the event that I need to leave quickly, I will know where to go.
My first choice for emergency refuge is:
Location: Telephone Number:
My alternate choice is:
Location: Telephone Number:
5. In the event that I need to leave quickly, I will have the telephone numbers of area shelters for abused women:
Excerpt: Women In Transition, Inc.Keeping Safe:A Workbook for Developing Safety Plans. WIT. Philadelphia.
Examples of safety planning with specific groups
Illustrative Example: Women using substances
General considerations for shelter staff when conducting safety planning with domestic violence survivors using substances:
- Have discussions with each woman about her substance use, explore how the use impacts her and what she needs to stay as safe as possible.
- Explore how her partner’s use of substances impacts or has impacted her safety.
- Ask questions about the context of her use and how this affects her safety. For example: “Where do you most often use?”, “Who do you usually use with?”, “How does this impact your safety?”
- Explore her choices: “Who can you call to help you if things start to escalate?”; or “Is there a safer place to drink?”
- Help women to understand the connection between their use and their ability to keep themselves safe. Some women are open to look at abstaining as a means of creating more safety for themselves, while others may be willing to look at safer ways to use.
- Explore what triggers their need to use. Help women look at other actions to engage in when they feel the urge to use. If a woman is ready to work on abstaining, refer her for treatment and ask for permission to speak to the addictions counsellor, in order that the safety plan developed with her can be shared with the addictions counsellor.
Excerpt adapted from: Alberta Council of Women's Shelters. 2009. Danger assessment and safety planning. ACWS. Edmonton.
Safety planning with survivors relocating to new homes
Consider the following preventive measures with women who are moving to a new home, alongside other general safety planning strategies:
- Ask for a police escort if it is necessary to return to a previous home to collect belongings that could not be taken when first leaving and ensure the abuser cannot discover her new location.
- Develop secure methods of communicating with the landlord before, during and after the move, such as establishing a new email account on a safe computer (possibly at the library or a friend’s place) and using a cell phone that the abuser cannot access.
- Develop a plan for leaving the premises quickly.
- Wherever possible, avoid giving out the new address and phone number (i.e. use a post office box, or a friends address).
Safety planning with women living in the community
Questions for consideration when conducting safety planning with women who are living in the community include:
- What cues/triggers her partner’s violent behaviour and how can she seek safety before an incident occurs?
- If she needs to leave in a hurry, what will her emergency plan be? The emergency plan should include:
- Who can she go to for help?
- What items are essential to her that she should have packed in a bag (i.e. extra keys, money, documents- birth certificates, important phone numbers of people and places, identification, bank/financial cards, case documentation, clothes, prescriptions for herself and any items for children/dependents, etc.)?
- Where can the bag be kept so that it is easy to access and will not be found by her partner (e.g. left with a friend)?
- What other activities might contribute to her ability to keep herself safe if she needs to leave in a hurry?
- What can be done to keep her safe during violent episodes? This may include:
- Choosing a code word or action (e.g. leaving an object in front of the house or turning on/flickering a specific light) that can be used to signal someone to call the police.
- Going to a safer room in the home (i.e. one that locks from the inside, or one with a telephone).
- Planning an escape route.
- How can she prepare her children to keep themselves safe during violent episodes? This may include:
- Identifying a safe place to hide or go.
- Knowing how to call for help.
- Knowing that they should not try to intervene (Dozois, 2007).