5W Relationship breakdown and re-partnering
Over the barriers, onto the benefits: How practitioners changed their minds about universal risk screening
Many practitioners are unconvinced, reluctant, or even dismissive of universal risk screening tools in the family and relationships services sector (Kaspiew et al., 2015). The same research also found clients face significant risks like domestic violence, especially during separation. But without validated risk tools, practitioners may not realise. Given peak bodies like FRSA and ANROWS are challenging the sector to rethink intake and risk management, can practitioners change their minds about their risk practices? And how?
Relationships Australia Tasmania (RA Tas) launched universal risk screening in 2017 knowing staff might need support getting over the barriers and onto the benefits. RA Tas implemented the validated DOORS framework (McIntosh & Ralfs, 2012) with organisation-wide staff consultation, training, office redesign, ongoing support, and infrastructure upgrades. RA Tas also asked Relationships Australia South Australia to independently evaluate and provide feedback on progress. We report here on practitioner attitude shift after screening launch.
53 RA Tas staff completed an “Attitudes to Screening” survey nine months before launch with 31 repeating it nine months after launch. 40 staff provided post-launch qualitative feedback. The pre-post samples showed no significant differences on key demographics and represented services working across the family life course.
Before launch, we found RA Tas staff were already broadly confident in their practice but showing many barriers to adoption of screening. These findings informed the RA Tas launch. After launch, pre-post comparisons showed staff became even more confident and knowledgeable in “doing screening”; and, crucially, worried much less about clients reacting to screening or not engaging (all large effect sizes).
Equally, we found staff did not experience more “daily hassles” due to screening such as files being subpoenaed, being flooded by risks demanding staff time, or screening harming their relationships with clients. Crosschecking with qualitative feedback confirmed some staff were delighted by screening and were “screening to engage” rather than “screening to exclude” clients, meaning fewer clients are left at the margins of services.
We conclude that many RA Tas staff overcame their attitudinal barriers to universal risk screening and saw the benefits of universal risk screening for themselves and their clients. This was possible through purposeful implementation which aimed to leave no RA Tas staff member; instead, they became more convinced, enthused and accepting of screening.
We recommend that other organisations implement universal risk screening with practitioner attitude change in mind.
Michael oversees services to support Tasmanians enjoy positive, respectful and fulfilling relationships. He has worked in a number of senior management NGO roles. Michael has also worked as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and Community Development Consultant. He graduated in 2004 with a doctorate in Education from University of Tasmania.