Module 7: Safety and Safety Planning

Module Purpose

The purpose of this module is to:

  • Describe key strategies for safety planning with people experiencing abuse and their children.

  • Utilize an approach to safety planning defined by those who are experiencing abuse.

  • Understand the importance of creating ongoing opportunities to review and modify safety plans with people experiencing abuse.


Lived Experience: Peggy Carlson

Read Peggy's Story


I can’t believe I had to wait 45 minutes to talk to someone. It was hard enough to get here, then I have to wait. I feel like all I do is wait. I am not even sure what they can do to help. The woman I talk to looks so young. We sit down in a cozy room and she asks me how I am doing. Some question! I am horrible! I ask her if that woman from Child Protective Services could tell her why I am here, but she says that she would need to get a release.

Oh forget it.

I tell her I am still not feeling good. My side hurts. It hurts when I breathe and when I cry, which I do all the time. My daughter, Amanda, has been really clingy, and my son, Brian, asks about his dad every day. They are really confused. When I think about Brian, I hurt because I know he wants to be with his dad, but it is not safe for us to be with Bruce.

The fact that Bruce kicked a puppy in front of the kids makes me think he has no regard for their safety. He never cared much for Amanda, but to do it in front of Brian makes me think he is really losing it. I know he’s having a really hard time. Maybe a break from Bruce would give us both time to sort it out. I know that this will make Bruce mad. No kids, no house, no sex. He is going to be MAD. But then, maybe this will help him figure himself out so we can get back together.

About Safety

Safety is complex, and what it means to be “safe” is different for each person. It is important to be cautious not to impose beliefs and ideas about safety and safety planning. Instead, we want to support people in their safety planning process from their own experience and definitions about safety.

By the time a person who is experiencing abuse in their relationship requests outside help, they have likely made efforts to keep themselves and their children safe. For some people, much of their energy and efforts may have been centered on safety and safety planning. It is important to acknowledge these efforts and not assume we know what they need to be safe. This person already has in-depth knowledge about their situation and what they and their family may need.

Safety planning is the leading intervention and approach used to support people thinking about and planning how to keep themselves and their children safe. Over the years, safety plans have become a routine practice often guided by a form or checklist. Although it is helpful to have a guide, it is important to support people to guide the planning based on their own individual unique circumstances. It is important to see safety planning as a fluid process.

Understanding the process of safety planning requires a recognition of the risk posed by abuse, as well as how and why these risks may increase and decrease based on changing circumstances.


Lived Experience: LaTanya Johnson

Read LaTanya's Story


I go back to the agency I went to the first time Clinton hit me and ask to talk to an advocate. I sit down and I just start to cry. I tell her I have had it, but I don’t know what to do. This is the kind of thing that happens to other people, not in families like my family. I keep hoping things will go back to the way they were before Clinton started hitting me, but I know I can’t keep denying what’s happening, not now that the kids are involved. I tell the advocate that I don’t want Clinton to lose his job. This court case could be the final straw for him, and his work is all he has now that we are gone.

The advocate informs me that since law enforcement was called and Clinton was arrested, a court action is probably in progress. She told me she could come with me to the court date and help me talk with the district attorney. One of our neighbors is a lawyer in the DA’s office. Everyone is going to know soon enough that our dream life is a sham.


Planning for Safety

There are several helpful strategies when planning for safety with parents who are experiencing abuse.

  1. Support the person to lead their own process.

  2. Build a working partnership.

  3. Create opportunities to review, analyze and revise safety plans.

Supporting people to lead their own process

It is important that safety plans are individualized and tailored for every parent and child. This means that we support each person to lead their own process, allowing their knowledge, expertise and strength to be the guide (1). Their process will be informed by their individual experience and their unique life circumstances.

We will want to explore:

  • Their definition of safety

  • How they perceive risk and what is posing the greatest risk

  • What they have tried in the past. What has worked? What hasn’t worked?

  • Their perception of risk to their children and the strategies they has used to keep them safe

  • The complexity of safety and how plans account for the broader safety and life circumstances of each person and child

Build a partnership

Trust is essential in building partnerships with parents who are experiencing abuse. The following are elements parents have communicated that are important to building trusting relationships.

  • Active listening

  • Being nonjudgmental

  • Validating their experience and strengths

  • Not assuming we know what they need

  • Exploring many aspects of their life and safety, not just their physical safety

Building a partnership does not mean that our own knowledge, expertise, and experience are not  valuable components of a person’s safety plan. It is important to also provide information, resources, and options that can serve to enhance their plan. While we may have a wealth of knowledge, we want to avoid imposing our own judgments and ideas instead of building on the knowledge and ideas of the people we are partnering with.

Create opportunities to review, analyze and revise safety plans

Recognize that safety is constantly changing and therefore safety plans will need to shift and adapt to the increase and decrease of risk. There are also many levels of safety. Part of supporting safety is working to provide opportunities for parents and their children to check in and explore what is working and what is not working. These opportunities can either be with you, or by helping each person identify for themselves how they will know if they are safe and what risks are present in their lives.

Some approaches to developing a shared understanding about risk:

  • Explore what they see as a risk.

  • Support them to analyze why something is a risk and/or why it is not.

  • Examine your perspective on the level of risk that is posed to them and their children.

  • Be honest about your concerns for their safety and discuss their response to your concern.

  • Work to create a shared perspective that balances their expertise and strength.

The following are ideas on how to engage in conversation about safety planning:

  • Explore how they will gauge their safety.

  • Brainstorm what resources they have to support their safety.

  • Talk about how can you be supportive and what follow-up would look like.

  • Ensure they know they can continue to come back and check in about their ongoing needs.


  1. Safety Planning with Battered Women: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices, by Jill Davies, Eleanor Lyon, and Diane Monti-Catania, Sage Publications, 1998.

Lived Experience: Aimee Choi

Read Aimee's Story


I am afraid that Young will come to my work. As I was arriving to work the other day, I thought I saw him in the parking lot. I was scared, so I drove away and called in sick. Young does not know where we are living or where I’ve been taking the kids; work is the one place he can try to get me. No one at work knows that I have left him. I am afraid that he might hurt me there. He did threaten to kill me if I ever left, especially if I took the kids. I feel so alone, but I am not sure who to turn to.


Critical Thinking

This section is intended to allow us to integrate the training content into the lived experiences of families. Each of these critical thinking questions addresses one or more of the people in the Carlson, Choi, or Johnson families, and examines an aspect of their lives.

Take time to think about each of these questions, and think about responses from multiple stakeholders’ points of view. It may be helpful to go back and review sections of the curriculum, re-read the experiences of each family member, and engage in dialogue with community partners and co-workers.

  • How would you go about taking a approach to safety planning defined by Peggy, LaTanya and Aimee?

  • What are some of LaTanya’s unique life circumstances that you would want to consider? What might she describe as her greatest risk?

  • If you were a social worker at the community center where Aimee is seeking support, what would you like to add to support her safety?

  • What are some strategies you use to partner with people using abused and their children? What has worked? What hasn’t worked?

  • Based on the module, what are two things you can change in your work to take a more person defined approach to safety and safety planning?

  • What current opportunities do you have to review and revise safety plans with people experiencing abuse and their children? What opportunities would you like to create?