Effective programs that provide crisis responses to women experiencing family violence are essential. There is also a role for non-crisis responses to family violence. These can encompass a range of primary prevention, early intervention, post-crisis and long-term capability building programs. Developing frameworks for thinking about these approaches can help in identifying new policy and practice models.

This article is based on research undertaken by Lirata Consulting during evaluation of Firmer Foundations, a program of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand. We thank Good Shepherd ANZ for their openness to sharing this thinking with the broader sector, and for permission to make the associated discussion paper available to the public.


Crisis responses and preventive strategies

Many family violence programs focus on providing crisis responses to women whose immediate safety is at risk, and/or who have decided to leave an abusive partner. This reflects the vital need to ensure women’s safety, and the opportunities available for engagement and change at the time of crisis.

There are also some organisations and programs which focus on prevention of family violence. The most common way of categorising preventive strategies is the distinction between primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. This distinction originated in the field of preventive healthcare, and has subsequently been applied to other fields. In the context of family violence, the differences can be summarised as:

  • Primary prevention - preventing violence before it occurs
  • Secondary prevention / Early intervention - taking action on the early signs of violence, to prevent it from recurring or escalating
  • Tertiary prevention / Intervention - intervening after violence has occurred, to stop the violence, deal with its consequences, and prevent recurrence.

The most commonly implemented preventive strategies fall into the primary prevention category, including responses aimed at educating the public and influencing community attitudes in relation to family violence (e.g. White Ribbon, Our Watch). Secondary prevention/early intervention in family violence remains a relatively unexplored space.

Challenges of applying a secondary prevention lens

There is a clear motivation for pursuing secondary prevention / early intervention approaches in family violence – the potential to prevent escalation of violence. However, there are some challenges with designing programs that work with women and men at risk:

  • There are multiple perspectives, in the literature and among professionals in the field, about what constitutes secondary prevention or early intervention in family violence
  • It is not clear at what point a woman’s experience of family violence stops reflecting “the early signs of violence”, particularly within a framework in which coercion, intimidation and/or emotional abuse indicate that family violence is already occurring. Where is the boundary between early intervention and other forms of response?
  • There are different views of what constitutes a family violence crisis. For a range of reasons, women may not identify as being in crisis even though they are experiencing high levels of violence and risk
  • Screening for individuals at risk of family violence requires a considerable level of sophistication and focus – careful thought needs to be given to who realistically would be in a position to undertake such screening, and to take action on the results.

Opportunities for non-crisis responses

One of the difficulties with applying public health models of prevention to the family violence sector is that family violence is rarely an isolated event. The occurrence of cycles of abuse has been recognised for many years. Women dealing with family violence may experience problems fluctuating over time, go through repeated cycles of crisis, and engage in a number of attempts to leave an abusive partner.

Separation from an abusive partner is also not necessarily an indication of entering a post-crisis phase. The relationship may continue at a distance, particularly where there is geographical proximity and/or children are involved, and this still provides a context for abusive behaviour to occur.

The notion of a single ‘pre-crisis’ and ‘post crisis’ period in a woman’s family violence journey may therefore not match with the reality of her experience. There may be multiple inter-crisis and recovery phases, and women will likely have an ongoing need for support and capability building which sits alongside these various events.

Diagram showing a family violence journey over time, with multiple crisis and inter-crisis phases

Changing severity of family violence over time, with multiple opportunities for non-crisis family violence support work

While both primary and secondary prevention have potential protective benefits, they are only a part of a range of intervention opportunities for non-crisis family violence programs. Women at various stages of their family violence pathway will benefit from capability building, personal support, advocacy, service linkages and other forms of non-crisis assistance. From this point of view, early intervention describes some instances of non-crisis response which occur early in the family violence trajectory.

Staff working in non-crisis family violence programs will need to be able to monitor the level of risk for each client in an ongoing way, and have guidance and skills for responding to situations of escalating client risk, especially where engagement with a family violence crisis service is not an option.

Spectrum of family violence interventions

We suggest a revised spectrum of family violence intervention types, with a corresponding set of target client groups. These correspond not to a linear progression but to the nature of family violence experience and ability to engage with different types of responses at different times.

Spectrum of family violence intervention types and target client groups

Intervention types

Target client groups

Universal primary prevention


Targeted primary prevention

Those at elevated risk of becoming a victim (or perpetrator) of family violence, but who are not currently experiencing family violence

Non-crisis response

  • Contained risk
  • Elevated risk
  • Past risk

Women who are experiencing family violence but for whom crisis responses are not feasible (because the women does acknowledge that family violence is occurring, the level of risk is contained, or the woman is not willing to engage in a crisis response)

Women who have experienced family violence in the past, but are not currently experiencing it

Crisis response

Women who are experiencing family violence and for whom crisis responses are feasible (e.g. because of elevated risk, and/or woman wanting to separate from perpetrator)

Broadening the conceptual framework to include a range of non-crisis family violence responses invites consideration of which parts of the intervention spectrum are well-explored, and where there may be gaps. There is scope for creative thinking about what types of models and responses could be part of a diverse field of non-crisis family violence work.


Lirata's work in the family violence sector

Lirata Ltd actively works in program development and evaluation in the family violence sector.

For further information or assistance, please contact Celia Clapp at Lirata Consulting.

Mobile: +61 (0)403 043 390
Landline: +61 (0)3 9457 2547
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


For a fuller discussion of the issues explored in this article, please download our Discussion Paper on Non-Crisis Family Violence Work. This document was researched and written by Lirata in 2014 as part of our evaluation of Good Shepherd’s Firmer Foundations Program.

The focus in the discussion paper on women’s experience of family violence and on non-crisis responses reflects the specific context of that program, rather than our view of the appropriate emphasis of family violence policy as a whole.

Discussion Paper - Non-Crisis Family Violence Work (PDF 1.2 MB)

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