Field Notes: Coordinated Assessment and DV Survivors

written by Kim Walker
August 15, 2012

When it comes to coordinated assessment, one of the trickiest questions advocates must consider is how best to serve survivors of domestic violence. The safety and, in some cases, the lives of survivors of domestic violence depend not just on ready access to crisis-oriented services and a safe place to sleep at night, but also on the confidentiality of sensitive information.

We at the Alliance are developing a checklist that will help you ensure that your coordinated assessment system is equipped to meet the needs of survivors of domestic violence, but in the meantime, I would like to share with you what our friend Joyce Probst MacAlpine says staff at provider agencies in her community of Dayton/Montgomery County, OH, are currently doing to integrate their domestic violence (DV) and homeless assistance systems.

In Dayton, their domestic violence shelter is one of the community’s “gateway” shelters to their coordinated assessment system, meaning it is one of the shelters where people experiencing homelessness must go before gaining access to homeless assistance services. Here staff use the same assessment tool and decision tree process for referrals as at all the other gateway shelters, but they do their assessments on paper, not in the Homeless Information Management System (HMIS), a precaution designed to protect the private information of DV clients.

Staff at the domestic violence shelter also conduct a lethality assessment to determine how much danger a DV client might be facing in order to serve them accordingly. Once the assessment process is complete, the client is assigned a number. That number, along with the intervention they scored for, and any other basic, non-identifying information needed for the referral is sent to a centralized waiting list. No identifying information about the household is shared and no information is entered into HMIS.

When an opening becomes available and the client’s number comes up, the DV shelter and the agency to which the DV shelter is referring the client each receive an email. At that point, the client must then give permission to release their assessment information to the agency they’re being referred to. If the client agrees, their paper assessment is released to that agency and the connection between the household and the provider is made.

The staff at this second agency will then engage the client in an intake process for their specific program. If the program is not a DV program and the client signs a data release, the information from that intake process can then be entered into HMIS without compromising or sharing data from the client’s initial entry into the system via the domestic violence system. The information entered into HMIS will show that the client came to the program from shelter, but will not reveal which one.

HUD doesn’t currently require that communities have one comprehensive coordinated assessment system that incorporates DV and other homeless assistance providers, though HUD is seeking comment on the interim Continuum of Care regulations on this issue. Using one assessment process instead of two certainly does seem to have its advantages in terms of coordination, and the Dayton example shows that it is possible for communities to accomplish such coordination without compromising the safety or privacy of survivors.

We’re sure there are plenty of other models out there, and we’d love to hear how other communities are working to connect and coordinate their domestic violence and homeless assistance systems. For more information on how to work with domestic violence survivors, make sure you check out ourDomestic Violence page. To see the latest materials we have on coordinated assessment (including the checklist, once it’s available), read through our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit.