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Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Safety planning is a critical service facilitated by shelter staff, which helps women better understand the factors that affect their own safety (and their children’s) and develop strategies for reducing the risk of future harm and violence.

Contributing to women’s short and longer-term security, safety planning can be used to help women manage and minimize the harm experienced during an incident of violence or within abusive relationships, as well as in the process of leaving a violent situation.

Comprehensive safety planning involves working with women to:

  • Understand individual risks (based on a thorough risk assessment) and identify strategies for reducing the risks of further physical violence.
  • Identify and document a range of individualized strategies for maintaining safety from abusers, and meeting basic human needs such as income, housing, health care, food, as well as children’s care and education.

Shelter staff must develop safety plans in partnership with women, using interactive tools that are tailored to, and build on a woman’s knowledge of her specific circumstances and environment. This is particularly important to ensure the plans are owned and implemented by the women using them, and considering that most survivors have taken actions to keep themselves and their children safe.

As with all shelter services, the safety planning processs should be empowering by reinforcing the woman’s role as the expert on her own life and acknowledging her specific situation and needs. Using such methods, inputs from shelter staff related to the woman’s risks and information on external resources can be valuable in strengthening the plan and the woman’s ability to implement it.

Safety plans are likely to fluctuate as women reflect on their circumstances and may change over time. They should be reviewed periodically with the woman to ensure they reflect her most current safety concerns and circumstances.

Most guidance on safety planning has been developed for situations of domestic violence, although there are emerging safety planning practices for women and girls experiencing other forms of violence (e.g. trafficking; forced marriage, ‘honour crimes’, etc). As with risk assessments, a variety of tools exist for conducting safety planning, and should be adapted as relevant for working with survivors rather than implemented as a checklist to be completed (Parkes, 2007; Davies, 2009).