Goundbreaking research for screening and responding to family violence

Identifying and managing safety risks in separated families: It is everyone’s responsibility

The Family Law ‘Detection Of Overall Risk Screen’ (known as the DOORS ) is a risk screening tool (McIntosh, 2012) that assists separating parents and family law professionals to detect and evaluate wellbeing and safety risks that family members may be experiencing after separation, before risks escalate, get out of control or end tragically.

It is the first tool in the world designed for coordinated use by every professional in the family law and related helping professions. The intent is to notice and enhance the security of all family members as they navigate the family law system.

The Family Law DOORS:

  • was developed by Professor Jennifer McIntosh, Family Transitions, and Dr. Claire Ralfs, Relationships Australia (SA), in a project funded by the Australian Government Attorney General’s Department
  • has been reviewed by international researchers and trialed by lawyers, mediators, court counselors and family violence workers, across Australia
  • is a long overdue and much needed means of assisting early risk detection and monitoring by the whole system.

Two forthcoming launch events – Hosted by Chief Justice Diana Bryant and Chief Judge John Pascoe – present new findings from the DOORS, and a new training program.

  • Risk Screening in Family Law: New Data, New Practices, New Possibilities: Sydney Monday 24 March, and Melbourne, Tuesday 25 March.

New Findings:

Analysis of the first 600 DOORS cases reveals critical information about separated parents and their children, the risks they face, and why. When parents attended a post separation support or dispute resolution forum:

  • 32% of partners were frightened of or concerned for their safety or that of their children because of the other parent
  • 50% of parents felt hostile or hateful toward the other parent
  • 22% of parents reported having major worries about how they had been coping lately
  • 27% of parents reported concern about drug/alcohol use
  • Men who reported greatest risk of behaving unsafely toward their former partners or children were also most likely to report they were sad, anxious and doing things out of character, that police had been called in the past because of their behavior, IVO’s had been issued, and their ex partner reported being stalked or feeling harassed
  • In nearly 50% of highest safety risk matters, fathers had no communication with their children or former partners in the past six months, and reported having had suicidal ideation
  • The DOORS triggered safety plans in the vast majority of high-risk cases.

Professor Jennifer McIntosh says:

“We know that women and children are at elevated risk of violence from their former partner or father during a highly acrimonious separation, when combined with mental health problems, or drug or alcohol abuse. We now know how to spot many early signs of risk, how to come alongside parents at risk of being harmed and parents at risk of harming. The DOORS will enable sharing of responsibility for screening and supportive, coordinated action”.

Dr. Claire Ralfs says:

“The DOORS reveals red flags for practitioners to follow up on, and supports them to engage with clients, to ensure that risks are detected and to respond early, before things get out of control.”

Visit the Family Law DOORS website for further information and profiles for Prof. Jennifer McIntosh and Dr. Claire Ralfs.