Creating a Tool for Assessing Domestic Violence Risk and Impact Among TANF Clients


  • Jordan J. Steiner Center on Violence Against Women and Children, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • Laura Johnson Center on Violence Against Women and Children, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • Andrea Hetling Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • Hsiu-Fen Lin Rutgers University
  • Judy L. Postmus Center on Violence Against Women and Children, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey



Domestic Violence, Family Violence Option, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Risk Assessment


The Family Violence Option (FVO), a provision of the 1996 welfare legislation, allows states to waive certain program requirements for domestic violence (DV) survivors in order to protect them from danger or penalties. The absence of a standardized method for assessing risk and impact has been an impediment to states’ use of the FVO, particularly in the granting of waivers. The purpose of this study was to address this limitation by developing and testing a risk and impact assessment tool for DV survivors applying for waivers under the FVO. Therefore, a collaborative effort between state administrators and researchers was formed which included input from welfare staff and DV advocates. Background research included reviews of validated risk assessments and FVO policies, as well as primary data from focus groups and surveys with staff from the state human services organization, county welfare agencies, and DV organizations. A tool was then created with 131 questions covering demographics, abuse experiences, partner access and risk, perceptions of safety, and emotional health, and piloted in four counties. Two hundred and thirty-seven completed assessments were analyzed using descriptive statistics, principal component analysis, and feedback from assessors. The final tool (n= 95 items) was informed by validated evidence and frontline practice wisdom, recommended to improve FVO utilization and survivor outcomes. From this study, the authors recommend that other states seeking changes to their FVO risk assessment policy and practice explore collaborative partnerships between practitioners and researchers in order to make decisions informed by best practices and systematic research. They should also pursue cross departmental training of risk assessment tools to prevent a siloed approach to FVO implementation.

Author Biographies

Jordan J. Steiner, Center on Violence Against Women and Children, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Graduate Research Assistant, Evaluation Coordinator and Doctoral Candidate, Center on Violence Against Women and Children

Laura Johnson, Center on Violence Against Women and Children, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Assistant Research Professor and Coordinator, Center on Violence Against Women and Children

Andrea Hetling, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Associate Professor- Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy

Hsiu-Fen Lin, Rutgers University

Doctoral Candidate at Rutgers University School of Social Work

Judy L. Postmus, Center on Violence Against Women and Children, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Strategic Initiatives, Professor & Associate Director, Center on Violence Against Women and Children 


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