What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: The importance of family violence screening tools for family law practitioners
As described earlier in this report, the research team conducted 17 informational interviews. Information gathered through these interviews was largely consistent with the findings from the literature review and from analyzing the tools: that while screening is common for both mediators and health care providers, it is ad hoc and less common among FLPs. Interviews also revealed that when women’s shelters screen for FV, it is largely to assist in the process of safety planning with women. See Appendix B for overview of participant sectors.
Few of the lawyers interviewed indicated that they use a formal screening tool. Rather, they tended to rely on the presence of “red flags” and the ongoing development of a relationship with a client to identify opportunities to open a discussion about violence and abuse.
Interviews further revealed that not all lawyers screen every client. Four of the interviewed lawyers indicated that they do and three that they do not. Mediators, including lawyers who conduct mediation, screen every client.
Both mediators and lawyers indicated that screening happens throughout their relationship with a client and that it is an ongoing process.
Three lawyers said they would use a standardized tool if one existed, four lawyers said they might and one lawyer responded “no” to this question. Those who were unsure and the lawyer who responded “no” indicated they were concerned that using a tool might lead them to miss signs of abuse not identified by the tool.
The interviews produced a number of suggestions as to what features would make a screening tool helpful:
- Plain language
- Avoid triggering language like “family violence”
- Open-ended and suggestive rather than yes/no questions
- Oral, conversational, narrative
- Include categories of abuse
- Addresses cyber stalking and harassment
- Easy to use
- Includes a way to score responses
Many of those interviewed felt strongly that training is extremely important; perhaps even more important than the precise construction of the tool that is used.
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