Screening and Assessment for Relationship Abuse
While homeless youth involved in abusive relationships face similar risks as their teen peers, their status both as youth and as homeless individuals presents unique challenges to service providers.
- The level of violence that they have experienced – which may make it seem “normal” – is likely to be quite high. Escape routes for them are limited or non-existent.
- While relationships with other homeless youth or adults might be exploitative or abusive, breaking ties with the only “family” that they have and with individuals who have provided some measure of protection might be difficult.
- Given their trauma histories and their lives on the street, substance abuse and mental health concerns are also likely to be issues for many of them, and may exclude them from some residential options that screen out for drug/alcohol abuse or who do have the capacity to provide the necessary mental health supports.
- Existing DV/SA intervention services are largely designed for heterosexual women. Homeless GLBT youth need access to sensitive and appropriate prevention and intervention services.
As a consequence of these realities, screening and assessment for relationship violence and safety planning become extremely important.
Tools: Screening and assessment for relationship violence
A number of screening and assessment tools have been developed to help RHY agencies explore issues of relationship violence with the youth with whom they are working, and they continue to be refined. Examples include the Universal Abuse and Domestic Violence Screening Tool developed by the Worcester County Health Department, Case Management Unit, the Teen Dating Violence Assessment Questions developed by the Center for Community Solutions (CCS) and San Diego Youth & Community Services (SDYCS) and sample assessment questions and tools in included in Addressing Intimate Partner Abuse in Runaway and Homeless Youth: A Practical Guide for Service Providers developed by he Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership (HHYP).
The HYYP also engaged in thoughtful consideration of when and how such screening should be conducted within RHY programs, and offers the following guidance:
When should these questions be asked?
Screening questions about intimate partner abuse (IPA) should be asked as part of the agency intake process. Of course, the type and scope of questions that are asked should match the level of service that youth are seeking and the capacity of the agency to respond to any findings. For example, if youth are only looking for a sandwich or a shower, it is not appropriate to ask IPA assessment questions unless there are other indicators that IPA is a problem. The answers youth provide to these screening questions can help the staff determine if further assessment is indicated. Other opportunities for conducting an IPA assessment include:
- When staff suspect or know a youth is in an IPA relationship;
- As part of in-depth assessment conducted with each youth per agency protocols;
- When youth convey the willingness to answer personal questions about their intimate relationships; or
- When a youth asks for help with their relationship.
- How do we ask these questions to get the most honest response?
- Youth in IPA relationships often feel out of control. Explaining the exceptions to keeping disclosures confidential allows a youth to decide how to proceed and when to disclose specific information.
- Use age-appropriate language.
- When asking about IPA, make sure that the questions reference specific behaviors (such as hitting, kicking, slapping, verbal put-downs, threats, etc) instead of referring simply to “intimate partner abuse” or “domestic violence.” In this way, youth are clear about the behaviors that you are asking about. The Sample IPA Assessment Questions that are on the next page can be used as a guide.
- If possible, a staff member who knows the youth and has a positive relationship with the youth should ask these questions.
- IPA-related issues should be discussed in a non-judgmental fashion.
- Questions need to be asked in a private space to ensure confidentiality.