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What Do Professionals Need to Know?

Community Coordination

Domestic Violence Policy Development Tool

Why are domestic violence policies important?

It is important for agencies and organizations to have formalized domestic violence policies in place for many reasons. These include:

  • Building victim safety and offender accountability into the system's response.

  • Providing for consistency of the system's response.

  • Establishing accountability for practitioners.

  • Helping to link different parts of the system together in a more coordinated way.
Elements to be included in a domestic violence policy

There are certain core elements that should be included in all policies. These elements are:

  • Definitions - Since what we mean when we use a certain word or phrase can vary greatly, it is important to define the terms used in the policy. Examples of terms that may need to be defined are "domestic violence," "family member," and "domestic incident."

  • Rationale - All policies should include a statement as to why the policy exists. This may include a statement making domestic violence an agency priority or laws and regulations that drive the policy.

  • Procedure - The procedure outlines what practitioners are to do under what circumstances. This may include necessary forms to be completed, what, when and how information is to be shared with others, and applicable laws and regulations.

  • Training - The policy should clearly state what training is required of personnel, how much training is required, when the training will be conducted and by whom. Training should be on-going and provided to all levels of the organization.

  • Monitoring - All policies should include mechanisms for monitoring compliance. These mechanisms may include file review by supervisors or self-monitoring by the practitioner through the use of a checklist.

  • Evaluation - All policies should include how, why and by whom the policy will be evaluated. This should be an on-going process and should include the input of battered women and domestic violence advocates.
Developing a domestic violence policy

There are considerations to be addressed by those developing the policy prior to development, during development, and as the policy is being implemented.

Prior to the development of the policy

Considerations include:

  • Conducting a needs assessment to determine what policy needs to be developed.

  • Determining if a policy exists that can be updated or if the policy needs to be created "from the ground up."

  • Determining if a model policy exists that can be used as a guide.

  • Identifying who is necessary to participate in the development of the policy. Consider inviting representatives from line staff as well as from your local domestic violence program. Considering possible negative consequences the policy could have on the safety of battered women.

  • In conjunction with your local domestic violence program, eliciting feedback from battered women. Determine what their past experience has been, what worked and what did not.

During the development of the policy

Considerations include:

  • Consulting other agencies within the community for input and/or assistance in policy development.

  • Creating, updating and/or editing the policy including all the "elements to be included in a domestic violence policy" outlined earlier.

  • Considering possible negative consequences the policy could have on the safety of battered women.

  • In conjunction with your local domestic violence program, eliciting feedback from battered women. Ask them what implications the proposed policy would have on them.

  • Obtaining administrative approval and support for the policy.

  • Using all feedback in finalizing the policy.
Implementation of the policy

Considerations include:

  • Conducting initial training just prior to implementation of the policy. Provide training to the administrative and supervisory staff first whenever possible.

  • Announcing the implementation of the policy to the community. Make the policy available to the public whenever possible.

  • Continually obtaining feedback from battered women and from other system practitioners.

  • Continually monitoring and evaluating the policy.

  • Approaching the policy as a "living document" that will change and grow as more information becomes available. Making changes to the policy after implementation is not a failure. Good policies are living, breathing documents.
Exceptions to the policy

Policies should guide the work of practitioners in the handling of domestic violence cases. There should, however, be flexibility to stray from the policy should it compromise a victim's safety. During the development of the policy, a mechanism should be established for allowing exceptions to the policy. Practitioners should be trained in what to do if they feel they should deviate from the policy in a given case, including consultation with supervisors and documentation of actions taken.

Memoranda of Understanding (MOU's)

MOU's, or interagency agreements, are formal agreements between agencies that outline the responsibilities of each and how they will work together on domestic violence cases.

MOU's can formalize an existing informal relationship between agencies.

Like policies, MOU's can establish accountability and consistency between systems.

An MOU does not take the place of an agency domestic violence policy. Each agency engaging in an MOU should have an in-house domestic violence policy in place.

County-wide policies

County-wide policies differ from MOU's in that they involve a number of similar agencies implementing the same policy.

Example: All 15 police departments in a county agree to develop and implement the same policy for handling domestic violence cases.

County-wide policies provide for consistency of response between all agencies that participate.

Police departments and hospitals are examples of systems that might consider adopting county-wide policies.


Shepard, Melanie and Pence, Ellen. 1999. Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from Duluth and Beyond. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Copyright © 2002 by the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

Updated 7/02.