The changing nature of substantiated maltreatment investigations in Canada

Author(s): 
Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., MacLaurin, B. & Sinha, V.

The 1998, 2003 and 2008 cycles of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) provide a unique opportunity to track some of the critical changes in child welfare investigation practices that have occurred across Canada over the last ten years. The 2003 study documented a dramatic increase in investigations with rates of substantiated investigations more than doubling over a five year period (Trocmé, Fallon, MacLaurin et al. 2005). This increase appeared to be associated with a number of factors, including growing awareness of the impact of emotional maltreatment and exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) as well as increased focus on risk assessment (Trocmé, Fallon, MacLaurin, & Neves, 2005). A number of jurisdictions responded to this increase by developing differential response models designed to provide more flexible investigation and assessment options as well as by linking more effectively to community resources (Trocmé & Chamberland, 2003). The 2008 study found no statistically significant change from 2003 to 2008, indicating that rates of maltreatment investigations may be stabilizing after a period of dramatic change (Trocmé, Fallon, MacLaurin et al., 2010a). The objective of this brief article is to examine the extent to which these changes have been consistent across categories of investigation and generate discussions that may help guide analyses of these trends.

Due to missing data from Québec in the 2003 cycle of the CIS, the trend analyses presented here focus on substantiated investigations in the rest of Canada; however, Québec was a full participant in the 1998 and 2008 cycles of the CIS and is included in most subsequent analyses. It should also be noted that the numbers presented here are weighted based on information collected directly from investigating child welfare workers on smaller samples of cases drawn from a representative number of child welfare agencies across Canada. For details about the study methods and major findings please see reports cited at the end of this article.

Table 1 presents estimated rates per 1,000 children of substantiated investigations by primary category of investigation across the three cycles of the CIS. The rate of investigation in Canada (excluding Québec), increased from 9.63 investigations per 1,000 children in 1998; to 21.71 per 1,000 in 2003; and then decreased slightly to 18.65 per 1,000 in 2008.

Table 1: Primary category of substantiated investigations in Canada (excluding Québec) in 1998, 2003 and 2008

Rates per 1,000 children

1998

2003

2008

Primary Substantiated Investigation Category

 

 

 

Physical abuse

2.57

5.31

3.19

 

Sexual abuse

0.89

0.62

0.40

 

Neglect

3.60

6.38

5.52

 

Emotional maltreatment

0.89

3.23

1.38

 

Exposure to intimate partner violence

1.68

6.17

5.81

 

Risk of maltreatment

*

*

2.36

Total substantiated investigations

9.63

21.71

18.65

*: Risk-only investigations were not tracked in the CIS-1998 and the CIS-2008

Figure 1 provides a graphic representation of the information presented in Table 1. It shows that most investigation categories increased from 1998 to 2003, but that from 2003 to 2008 there is less consistency in trends by category. For example, while there has been relatively little change in the rate of investigations of neglect and exposure to IPV, physical abuse and emotional maltreatment investigations have dropped back close to their 1998 levels. Across all three cycles rates of substantiated sexual have also been decreasing. These changes are being examined closely to determine the extent to which they represent changes in reporting and investigation practices as opposed to a real decline in rates in the population (Collin-Vézina, Hélie & Trocmé, 2010).

 Figure 1: Primary category of substantiated investigation in Canada (excluding Quebec) in 1998, 2003 and 2008

Figure 2: Primary category of substantiated investigation in Canada (excluding Quebec) in 1998, 2003 and 2008

 

 

Figure 2 presents the same information in a “stacked area” format that shows how the introduction of a new category of investigation – risk of maltreatment – may account for some of the decline in other categories of substantiated maltreatment. The risk of maltreatment category was introduced in the 2008 cycle of the study following a post-2003 study file review which found that several cases classified as substantiated investigations were situations where maltreatment had not yet occurred, but where there were enough risk factors to confirm a high risk of maltreatment occurring in the future. Because risk of maltreatment was not tracked in the 1998 and 2003 cycles of the study we cannot determine exactly how many such cases had been forced into maltreatment categories; however, analyses of risk of maltreatment cases in 2008 show that these cases share many of the characteristics of substantiated maltreatment cases and are treated with the same level of concern as cases where maltreatment has already occurred (Fallon & Trocmé, 2010).

For more information on the 1998, 2003 and 2008 cycles of the CIS please go to http://www.cwrp.ca/.

A version of this article will be appearing in the January 2012 edition of Canada’s Children.

References
Collin-Vézina, D., Hélie, S., & Trocmé, N. (2010). Is child sexual abuse declining in Canada? An analysis of child welfare data. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34, 807-812.
Fallon, B., & Trocmé, N. (2010). Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect: Separating risk from maltreatment. Paper presented at the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN).
Trocmé, N., & Chamberland, C. (2003). Re-involving the community: The need for a differential response to rising child welfare caseloads in Canada. In N. Trocmé, D. Knoke & C. Roy (Eds.), Community Collaboration & Differential Response (pp. 45-56). Ottawa, ON: Child Welfare League of Canada.
Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., MacLaurin, B., Daciuk, J., Felstiner, C., Black, T., et al. (2005). Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect – 2003: Major findings. Ottawa, ON: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., MacLaurin, B., & Neves, T. (2005). What is driving increasing child welfare caseloads in Ontario? Analysis of the 1993 and 1998 Ontario Incidence Studies. Child Welfare Journal, 84, 341-362.
Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., MacLaurin, B., Sinha, V., Black, T., Fast, E., et al. (2010). CIS-2008: Executive Summary. In Public Health Agency of Canada (Ed.), Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect – 2008: Major findings (pp. 1-7). Ottawa, ON: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., MacLaurin, B., Sinha, V., Black, T., Fast, E., et al. (2010). CIS-2008: Methodology. In Public Health Agency of Canada (Ed.), Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect – 2008: Major Findings (pp. 12-21). Ottawa, ON: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Trocmé, N., MacLaurin, B., Fallon, B., Daciuk, J., Billingsley, D., Tourigny, M., et al. (2001). Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect: Final report (Scientific Report). Ottawa, Ont.: Health Canada.

 

Suggested Citation: 

Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., MacLaurin, B. & Sinha, V. (2011). The changing nature of substantiated maltreatment investigations in Canada.