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.