Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

Nursing Best Practice Guidelines

Safety Planning

Always ask what the woman needs to be safe and be willing to listen to her needs. Some key principles to remember are: 

  •  Safety is the priority – is she and/or children in danger; what has she done so far and what does she need.
  • Each woman is her own expert on her life - respect it.
  • Each woman is unique – do not make assumptions about her safety.
  • Offer support, information and choices - NOT ADVICE.
  • Provide information on local resources like shelter and crisis/help lines.
 Remember your response or lack of response could put the woman and her children at greater risk for harm.

A. Ensure the woman’s safety at all times
Think – Where is the abuser right now? If the abuser is in the health care facility now, does the woman believe that the abuser may pose a danger to her, her children or the health care providers? Is it necessary to seek help from the police or security? Is the abuser suspicious about the interview? Has the abuser tried to insist that the interview include him/her? (MLHU, 2000)

B. Complete a safety checklist with the woman The nurse helps the woman assess:

  1. Her Level of Danger:
    • How much contact does she have with her partner?
    • Has partner breached a “no contact order”?
  2. The Nature of Recent Contact with Partner
    • Is partner threatening?
    • Is partner expressing feelings of desperation? (e.g., “I can’t live without you”, “You’ll be with me or nobody else”)
    • How fearful is the woman of not complying with partner’s demands?
  3. The Nature of the Abuse/Violence
    • Is the frequency or severity of the violence escalating?
    • Is the partner in possession of a weapon or threatening to purchase a weapon?
  4. Significant Events
    • Is the woman pregnant?
    • Is she planning to end the relationship?
    • Is she planning to begin a new relationship?
    • Is she starting a new job or going to school?
    • Is there an upcoming court date (for assault charges, separation/divorce, child custody)?
  5. Support Networks
    • Is the woman isolated (by language, lack of transportation, mobility)?
    • Do others know about the abuse? Are they supportive?

C. Develop a Safety Plan with the woman Encourage the woman to:

  1. Tell someone about the abuse.
  2. Have a list of emergency phone numbers.
  3. Plan an escape route – where to go in an emergency situation.
  4. Pack a suitcase with essential clothing for self and children. Include comfort items like a favourite toy for the children. Store with someone she trusts.
  5. Collect essential documents and keep in a safe place. Include social insurance number, birth certificates, driver’s licence, passport/other photo identification, bank account numbers, copy of marriage licence, and any court documents such as restraining orders/peace bonds, or custody and access papers.

For additional information on Safety Plans, contact your local shelter or visit
Reference: London Abused Women's Centre [formerly The Battered Women's Advocacy Centre] (2001). Safety resource kit for abused women. London, Ontario: Author.