Gambling and Family and Domestic Violence

A suggested practice approach for social workers who are supporting those experiencing domestic violence that is linked to gambling: listen, support, screen, be alert to self-blame and assist with financial abuse, child aware practice


This page has three sections:

  1. Background Material that provides the context for the topic

  2. A suggested Practice Approach

  3. A list of Supporting Material / References

Feedback welcome!

Background Material

Gambling is normalised in Australia, with nearly two in three adults engaging in gambling in any given year. Problem gambling can cause serious harms and is connected to intimate partner violence (IPV), in particular physical assault, coercive control and economic abuse. Key findings from a study by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) recommended the following. (i) Improve professional awareness of the link between gambling and intimate partner violence, and how to respond; and (ii) Develop and implement screening and assessment tools that address gambling behaviours and intimate partner violence. ((ANROWS, 2020)


Practice Approach


A practice guide for the family and domestic, gambling and financial counsellor sectors to support women affected by family and domestic violence (FDV) lists a number of practice skills that can be relatively easily implemented in most practice settings (Freytag et al., 2020).


PRACTICE SKILL 1

Listen carefully for signs of control, abuse and violence within the relationship as well as the potential financial and behavioural indicators of harmful gambling.


PRACTICE SKILL 2

Given most women experiencing FDV and gambling harm struggle with stigma and shame, support your client with empathetic understanding of the context of DFV and gambling, and non-judgemental curiosity and assistance. For example, acknowledge that finding a constructive way forward is difficult, clarify the role gambling plays in the client’s life and explore alternatives, validate women experiencing FDV as mothers working hard to try to be the best mothers they can, and explore options to plan and prepare for change at a client-directed pace.


PRACTICE SKILL 3

Use a screening tool to ensure all major issues impacting detrimentally on the client are known from the start. Do this in private with the client even if clients present as a couple. Carefully review the information revealed by this tool then collaborate with the client to formulate a constructive and comprehensive response to the full scope of challenges.

The DOOR 1 risk screen is an example of a validated risk screening measure. It is available free of charge at https://www.familydoors.com The relevant gambling questions include: “In the past year, for whatever reason:

1. Have you gambled more than you meant to?

2. Have you felt you wanted or needed to cut down on your gambling?

3. Is anyone else worried about your gambling these days?”

There is a simple follow-up question available: “This screen says you felt like you wanted or needed to cut down on your gambling in the last year. Tell me more about wanting or needing to cut down on your gambling.” Practitioners then do further elaboration and risk assessment, and safety response planning as necessary.

PRACTICE SKILL 4

Be aware that gambling can function as a survival tool for some women experiencing violence and abuse..Explore with your client the role that gambling plays in her life and help her to assess whether her needs might be met in a way that is less harmful to her.

It is not helpful or advisable to seek to encourage a client to surrender a survival tool until the person is in a position to replace it with another that does not come with the harms gambling entails for them. Counselling, therefore, needs to seek to expand the client’s coping capacity through the building of, for example, mindfulness-based skills and social support-seeking competencies.


PRACTICE SKILL 5

Be curious about the role of gambling in the relationship and patterns of violence and abuse. This awareness and understanding can be very empowering for your client.


A woman’s gambling can be seen as a justification by her abuser for the use of violence. Practitioners should be aware and alert to signs of self-blame due to the partner’s shaming and demeaning and respond to these through clarifying the power relationship that underpins shaming and assisting clients to elevate attitudes that clarify responsibilities for abusive actions.


Gambling can also become weaponised when a man uses violence in the context of his own gambling problem.


PRACTICE SKILL 6

Watch out for signs of financial abuse and, if present, refer the client to a financial counsellor.


PRACTICE SKILL 7

Under careful consideration of questions of safety, include as many members of the family (especially children) as possible in the work, be that in person or through reflection upon their needs and behaviours. Consider questions of safety at all times, including whether couples counselling is appropriate.


PRACTICE SKILL 8

Familiarise yourself with relevant services in your area. Attend local network meetings.


Child Aware Practice

Parents with mental health, addiction, homelessness and family violence issues can cause major difficulties for children. These can have life-long consequences, e.g. suicide, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, high-risk sexual behaviour, violence and criminal offending, homelessness and abuse and neglect of one’s own children.


Therefore, it is important that those supporting adults also assess the impact of adults’ issues on children and take steps to support adults in their parenting role.


This is what Child Aware Practice is about. You will find this topic covered in more detail on the website at https://www.thesocialworkgraduate.com/post/child-aware-practice


Supporting Material/References

(available on request)


ANROWS: Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2020). Problem gambling and intimate partner violence: Key findings and future directions (Research to policy and practice, 21/2020). Sydney: ANROWS


Freytag, C., Lee, J., Hing, N., & Tully, D. (2020). The dangerous combination of gambling and domestic and family violence against women: Practice guide for gambling counsellors, financial counsellors and domestic and family violence workers. (ANROWS Insights, 06/2020). Sydney: ANROWS.