Family Violence Initiative



Family Violence Interventions

Program name:

Islands of Safety


The Centre for Response Based Practice


Throughout British Columbia

Target Group:

Women, children, perpetrators, child protection workers and extended family.

Contact Name:

Cathy Richardson, Researcher, Instructor, Family counsellor





Program Overview

The program was developed and piloted in 2008 with a grant from the Law Foundation of British Columbia. Due to the climate of fiscal restraint, ongoing funding has not been secured. Current work is focused on teaching the model of the philosophy which can be applied across various contexts in conjunction with adaptations to pre-existing programs; and delivering various "Islands of Safety" related training to social workers, transition house workers and human service workers and community members. The model has been presented in various places such as Castlegar, Prince Rupert and in Perth, Australia.

Program Description
Goals & Objectives:

To create safety by orchestrating positive social responses to children and adults who are at risk in their own families; to make it possible for the non-offending parent to continue residing with her/his children while society and the criminal justice system take appropriate measures to ensure that victims are protected from violent criminal behaviour; to promote positive social responses across professional lines, including respectful and helpful interventions by the RCMP and the justice system; to develop positive, communicative working relationships between Islands of Safety facilitators, child protection workers and other community professionals and families; to apply anti-oppressive, social justice, dignity-based practices in the social work climate; and to contest the inappropriate use of psychology to pathologize victims of violence and cast them as "bad parents".

Traditional/Indigenous ways:

The cultural components of the program include- the teachings of traditional roles in families; the importance of blankets as a symbol for safety, inclusion, warmth and protection; cultural values such as belonging, collectivity, role of adults to protect children from violence; the importance of positive community leadership; recognition of the importance of spirit and spirituality as a source of strength; drawing from the "Medicine Wheel of Responses and Resistance" as a tool for assessment; and Elders are invited into the process to enrich the discussion of healthy, Indigenous family roles.

Components of program:

The program is designed to create safety plans for children and mothers to keep them safe within their home environments. It involves a series of family meetings. The first round discusses traditional or typical family life and roles and how to establish a context of normalcy in the home. The second round seeks to rectify any loss of dignity and humiliation suffered by past interventions involving mainstream social service organizations. The third round focuses on family responses to violence and how to elicit safety knowledge, allies and support networks. The fourth round concerns social responses to the family and how the family responds to those social responses (i.e. injustice, racism, broken restraining orders).

Services/How they work:

Services are offered on site at the facility.


Funding is provided by The Law Foundation of British Columbia.

Relationships and Stakeholders
Involvement of Target Groups:

Women and extended family are involved in safety planning whenever possible and appropriate. Communities are involved through Islands of Safety initiatives to promote a shared analysis of violence and identify policies and practices which make life less safe for women and children.


Family members; child protection social workers; counsellors; transition house staff; victim services workers; RCMP; nurses; agency staff and directors; Aboriginal communities; and the School of Social Work at the University of Victoria.

Other relationships:


Details of Program Evaluation

An evaluation has been completed.

Highlights of Evaluation Findings:

Islands of Safety, in collaboration with the child protection team, is close to an ideal response to families in pain because of violence. Together they make available more time than is typically available to a family from a child protection team. Family members reported that facilitators skilfully helped them think about their own strengths, envision new possibilities for their future and create the conditions for the experience of dignity and safety. Islands of Safety can serve as an ally to families who are in crisis and who need support reconstructing their lives and communicating with child protection.

Program Outcomes
Measures of Success:

Success is measured through community leadership's response to the programming and by clients' reconnecting to their culture successfully in ways that are healthy and safe.


Facilitating the return of a number of children to their families where possible. Building bridges with the mainstream Canadian social services providers. Indigenous social workers in Australia found this model to be inspirational.


Obtaining funding. Shifting mainstream child protection practice to a more holistic approach to reconciliation and healing in the family unit.

Things to Know to Replicate
Replication Advice:

The program is considered replicable. This type of program could be adapted culturally to fit various Indigenous communities and traditions. The current model is based on prairie teachings (e.g. Cree and Métis) and designed for urban people who have lived separated from their culture.


Adequate funding, properly trained and knowledgeable staff and community engagement are necessary to ensure the success of the program.