First Contact Social Work: Responding to Domestic and Family Violence

Mia Mandara, Sarah Wendt, Helen McLaren, Michelle Jones, Priscilla Dunk-West, Kate Seymour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Domestic and family violence (DFV) is a pervasive social problem that social workers often encounter in practice. Responses to DFV require specialist and non-specialist services. Research suggests that first contact social workers can experience a lack of confidence, both in engaging with men who use violence and working with women and children who disclose experiencing violence. This article reports on the findings of an Australian survey (N = 100) that sought to identify the knowledge and practice skills that social workers draw on when they are the first responders to DFV. The survey invited qualified social worker participants from all sectors across Australia through the national online bulletins of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) and Child Family Community Australia (CFCA). Whilst 28% of the respondents demonstrated working in specialist DFV and child protection sectors, 72% worked in other sectors. The research found that most participants recognised signs of DFV, but responses were mainly focused on referring women victims to practical or accommodation support, and children to psychological support. Responding to perpetrators was rarely mentioned. Equipping non-specialist DFV practitioners with knowledge and skills to respond safely can create an opportunity for engagement, earlier intervention, and increased interagency collaboration with specialist services. IMPLICATIONS Social workers need to be able to recognise domestic and family violence and know how to respond when it presents itself in their work contexts. Continuing professional development in domestic and family violence is required in social work so practitioners can maintain, improve, and broaden their knowledge and skills as first responders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalAustralian Social Work
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Oct 2021


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