Supervisory strategies

While there are many strategies needed to address worker safety, reflective supervision[1] is one critical way for agencies to advance their domestic violence practice.[2] The following are some basic questions that supervisors need to ask their workers in all domestic violence cases:

  1. What do we know about the perpetrators’ pattern of violence and control as it relates to responding to outside interveners, including:
    1. his response to any prior child welfare involvement;
    2. any law enforcement involvement; or
    3. any interventions by family and friends to help the adult and child survivors?
  2. What safety concerns does this information raise for us? Where do we have gaps in our knowledge about his pattern toward outsiders that we need to address to fully assess worker safety in this case?
  3. Are there any prior experiences you have had that you think are impacting your sense of safety (for yourself and the family)?
  4. How are we partnering with the adult survivor around how our involvement may impact her and the children’s safety?

These kinds of questions should be a standard part of reflective supervision in domestic violence cases. Along with these changes to supervision, the agency can look at wider initiatives to help increase worker safety.

Wider system change recommendations

Here are some ideas for wider systems change that would support worker safety in domestic violence cases:

  • Provide training and supervision to increase your workers’ comfort and confidence in working with men as parents. When workers increase their overall knowledge and skills in working with men as parents, in general, they are less likely to over or under-estimate safety concerns with fathers who have engaged in violence.
  • When workers increase their overall knowledge and skills in working with men as parents, in general, they are less likely to over or under-estimate safety concerns with fathers who have engaged in violence.
  • Support the development of workers’ skill and confidence talking about violence and abuse in non-judgmental, behaviorally focused, fact-based ways. Use of motivational interviewing techniques, and overall practice talking about violent and controlling behavior will increase workers’ ability to engage safely with perpetrators.
  • Set policy and protocol guidelines that expect workers to identify the perpetrators’ pattern, document the perpetrators’ pattern and expect assessment to include a worker safety checklist.
  • Support a culture of reflection and critical thinking that encourages workers to process their personal history, biases and fears with supervisors, peers and coaches.
  • Support a wider culture shift around “fitness for duty” that allows workers to express safety concerns without worrying they will be seen as unwilling and unable to do their job. This ties back to wider efforts some agencies are making to become more trauma-informed.
  • Create specific safety steps to be used in all in domestic violence cases including:
    • Discussing the perpetrator’s potential reactions to being engaged by child welfare with the adult survivor. This can include follow-up check-ins with the survivor after the meeting with him to learn about any fallout she and children might face.
    • Determine the safest place to interview him (home, public, office, police department, prison).
    • Develop a safety plan for the interview using questions like:
      • What is the plan if he becomes belligerent?
      • Do you need someone in the interview with you?
    • Review and update any wider worker safety protocols to ensure they are consistent with knowledge about domestic violence cases. Consider managing worker safety using existing teams for high risk cases. Multi-disciplinary teams that include outside agencies, such as law enforcement, may be especially useful when domestic violence intersects with other criminal behavior, e.g. gang involvement.
    • Consider implementing criteria for deciding when it is not safe at all to meet with the perpetrator.
    • Ensure that discussions around safety are grounded in behavioral assessment of perpetrators, so they are less likely to fall prey to bias against men from historically oppressed groups (who are often stereotyped as more dangerous).
    • Ensure that workers who may be more likely to be targeted by perpetrators based on gender, race or other demographic factors are supported to discuss intersectionalities as it relates to safety.

Implementing these organizational changes can help an agency move toward its goal of being domestic violence-informed.

In Part I of this blog, learn more about the context for supervisory and organizational strategies to promote worker safety.

Learn more about our Supervisor Training

Read about domestic violence-informed organizational change and supervision

Order the “Worker Safety in Domestic Violence Cases” card


Breul, Nick, and Desiree Luongo. “Making It Safer: A Study of Law Enforcement Fatalities Between 2010-2016,” n.d., 92.

Healey, Lucy, Catherine Humphreys, Menka Tsantefski, Susan Heward-Belle, David Mandel, and Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited. Invisible Practices Intervention with Fathers Who Use Violence. Sydney: ANROWS, 2018.

Hunt, Susan, Chris Goddard, Judy Cooper, Brian Littlechild, and Jim Wild. “‘IF I FEEL LIKE THIS, HOW DOES THE CHILD FEEL?’CHILD PROTECTION WORKERS, SUPERVISION, MANAGEMENT AND ORGANISATIONAL RESPONSES TO PARENTAL VIOLENCE.” Journal of Social Work Practice 30, no. 1 (2016): 5–24.

Kim, HaeJung, and Karen M. Hopkins. “Child Welfare Workers’ Home Visit Risks and Safety Experiences in the USA: A Qualitative Approach.” International Journal of Social Work and Human Services Practice 5, no. 1 (March 2017): 1–8.

New Jersey Department of Children and Families. “New Jersey Department of Children and Families Policy Manual: Child Protection and Permanency: Domestic Violence,” n.d.