A Comparison of First Nations and non-Aboriginal Children Investigated for Maltreatment in Canada in 2003

Author(s): 
Bruce MacLaurin, Nico Trocmé, Barbara Fallon, Cindy Blackstock, Lisa Pitman, & Megan McCormack

This revised information sheet corrects for an error in the calculation of incidence rates for First Nations and non-Aboriginal investigations represented in the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect 2003 (CIS-2003). Registered North American Indian (Status First Nations) children were inadvertently counted twice in the calculation of incidence rates. While this did not affect any of the estimates of the number of investigations involving First Nations Children, it did lead to a substantial underestimation of the incidence of investigations per 1,000 First Nations children in the general population and a slight overestimation of the incidence of investigations involving non-Aboriginal children. The original estimates for the incidence of investigations were 58.34/1000 First Nations children and 44.11/100 non-Aboriginal children; the revised estimates are 110.56/1000 First Nations children and 42.23/1000 non-Aboriginal children. These revisions affect all incidence rate estimates for First Nations and non-Aboriginal children derived from the CIS-2003; they do not impact estimated percentages or child counts for First Nations or non-Aboriginal investigations included in CIS-2003, nor do they affect incidence rate estimates for other populations examined using CIS-2003 data. The revised estimates reveal a level of overrepresentation of First Nations children in the child welfare system that is much more pronounced than originally reported by CIS-2003, but which is more in keeping with the level of overrepresentation suggested by the limited data available from other sources (Farris-Manning, C., & Zanstra, M. 2003). These revisions do not change the key patterns identified in original analyses: the overrepresentation of First Nations children is driven by neglect, compounded at each stage of the investigation cycle and associated with structural risk factors such as poverty, poor housing and substance abuse.

Background to the CIS-2003 and the Mesnmimk Wasatek report

The 2003 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS-2003)1 is the second nation-wide study to examine the incidence of reported child maltreatment and the characteristics of the children and families investigated by Canadian child welfare services. The CIS-2003 tracked a sample of 14,200 child maltreatment investigations2 as a basis for deriving national estimates. Information was collected directly from the investigating child welfare workers using a standard set of definitions.3

The overrepresentation of First Nations children reported to child welfare in Canada is well documented,4 5 6 7 8 however the precise reason why it exists is not as clear. This Information Sheet is based on the Mesnmimk Wasatek report, prepared under contract to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, that compares children of First Nations heritage9 with non-Aboriginal children included in the CIS-2003 in an effort to better understand some of the factors contributing to the over-representation of First Nations children in the child welfare system in Canada. The final sample included 11,500 investigations for children, 0-15 years of age in Canada excluding Quebec.10 The following analysis is based on a weighted sample and the incidence rates are estimates based on population estimates prepared by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. For further information regarding how these estimates were calculated please refer to the Mesnmimk Wasatek report.
 

Incidence of investigated and substantiated maltreatment

An estimated 23,366 First Nations child investigations (110.56 investigations per 1,000 children) and 187,763 non-Aboriginal child investigations (42.23 investigations per 1,000 children) were conducted in Canada, excluding Quebec, in 2003.

A higher proportion of investigations involving First Nations children were substantiated or remained suspected following the initial investigation period. Fifty-two percent of First Nations child investigations were substantiated by the investigating worker (57.30 investigations per 1,000 children) compared to 47% of non-Aboriginal child investigations (19.84 investigations per 1,000 children) in Canada, excluding Quebec, in 2003. In a further 14% of investigations (an estimated 3,286 First Nations child investigations) there was insufficient evidence to substantiate maltreatment, however, maltreatment remained suspected by the investigating worker. Twelve percent of non-Aboriginal child investigations (an estimated 23,455 investigations) remained suspected by the investigating worker. Approximately 34% of First Nations child investigations (an estimated 7,969 child investigations) compared to 41% of non-Aboriginal child investigations (an estimated 76,093), were unsubstantiated (Table 1).

Table 1: First Nations and non-Aboriginal child maltreatment investigations by level of substantiation in Canada, excluding Quebec, in 2003*


  First Nations Child Investigations Non-Aboriginal Child Investigations Total
Level of Substantiation % Incidence per 1000 children Number of Child Investigations % Incidence per 1000 children Number of Child Investigations  
Substantiated 52 57.30 12,111 47 19.84 88,215 100,326
Suspected 14 15.55 3,286 12 5.28 23,455 26,741
Unsubstantiated 34 37.71 7,969 41 17.12 76,093 84,062
Total Child Investigations 100 110.56 23,366 100 42.23 187,763 211,129

*Based on a sample of 11,080 child maltreatment investigations with information about investigated child maltreatment

Source: Mesnmimk Wasatek Report, Table 3-1.
 

Primary categories of substantiated maltreatment for First Nations and non-Aboriginal child maltreatment investigations in Canada, excluding Quebec, in 2003

Neglect was the most common primary category of substantiated maltreatment in First Nations child investigations. Over half (56%) of all substantiated First Nations child investigations (32.33 investigations per 1,000 children) involved neglect as the primary category of maltreatment, an estimated 6,833 neglect investigations. Exposure to domestic violence was the second most frequently reported form of abuse in First Nations child investigations (11.24 investigations per 1,000 children). Emotional maltreatment was the primary category of substantiated abuse in First Nations investigations in 12% of cases (6.77 investigations per 1,000 children), followed by physical abuse (5.97 investigations per 1,000 children). Child sexual abuse was the primary concern in 2% of all First Nations child investigations, or 1.00 investigations per 1,000 children.

The most common primary category of substantiated maltreatment for non-Aboriginal child investigations was exposure to domestic violence, accounting for 30% of substantiated investigations (5.87 investigations per 1,000 children), followed by physical abuse (5.33 investigations per 1,000 children), neglect (4.98 investigations per 1,000 children), emotional maltreatment (3.07 investigations per 1,000 children) and child sexual abuse (0.60 investigations per 1,000 children) (Table 2).

Table 2: Primary categories of substantiated First Nations and non-Aboriginal child maltreatment investigations in Canada, excluding Quebec, in 2003*


  First Nations Child Investigations Non-Aboriginal Child Investigations Total
Primary Categories of Maltreatment % Incidence per 1000 children Number of Child Investigations % Incidence per 1000 children Number of Child Investigations  
Physical Abuse 10 5.97 1,261 27 5.33 23,687 24,948
Sexual Abuse 2 1.00 211 3 0.60 2,681 2,892
Neglect 56 32.33 6,833 25 4.98 22,121 28,954
Emotional Maltreatment 12 6.77 1,431 15 3.07 13,632 15,063
Exposure to Domestic Violence 20 11.24 2,375 30 5.87 26,095 28,470
Total Child Investigations 100 57.30 12,111 100 19.84 88,216 100,327

*Based upon a sample of 5,367 substantiated child maltreatment investigations with information about primary categories of substantiated maltreatment

Source: Mesnmimk Wasatek Report, Table 3-2.
 

Out-of-home placement for substantiated First Nations and non-Aboriginal child maltreatment investigations in Canada, excluding Quebec, in 2003

Sixteen percent of all substantiated First Nations child investigations (an estimated 1,946), resulted in a formal child welfare placement (kinship foster care, other family foster care, group home or residential/secure treatment) at the completion of the initial investigation. An additional 13% of substantiated First Nations child maltreatment investigations resulted in children placed in informal kinship care, while placement was considered for a further four percent of substantiated First Nations child maltreatment investigation. In total, 29% percent of First Nations children experienced a change of residence during or at the conclusion of the initial substantiated maltreatment investigation.

Seven percent of all substantiated non-Aboriginal child investigations (an estimated 5,562) resulted in a child being placed in formal child welfare care during the initial investigation, while an additional 4% of substantiated maltreatment investigations led to a child being placed in informal kinship care. Placement was considered for a further 4% of substantiated non-Aboriginal child maltreatment investigations. In total, 11% percent of non-Aboriginal children experienced a change of residence during or at the conclusion of the initial substantiated maltreatment investigation (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Placement decisions in First Nations and non-Aboriginal primary substantiated child maltreatment investigations in Canada, excluding Quebec, in 2003*

*Based upon a sample of 5,367 substantiated child maltreatment investigations with information about out-of-home placement

Source: Mesnmimk Wasatek Report, Table 7-6.
 

A focus on future research

The overrepresentation of First Nations children in the Canadian child welfare system is a complex and problematic issue for child welfare researchers, practitioners, and policy makers. The significant overrepresentation of First Nations children in substantiated child investigations and referrals to child welfare placement can clearly be related to the high level of caregiver, household, and community risk factors. The finding that neglect is the primary type of child maltreatment experienced by First Nations children calls for a reorientation of child welfare research, policy and practice to develop culturally sensitive and effective responses. Effecting change also calls for a much greater emphasis by child protection authorities on the structural factors contributing to child maltreatment amongst First Nations children such as poverty, poor housing, and parental substance misuse.

  • 1. 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. Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2005.
  • 2. The CIS does not track incidents that were not reported to child welfare services, reported cases that were screened out by child welfare services before being fully investigated, new reports on cases already opened by child welfare services, or cases that were investigated only by the police.
  • 3. In Quebec information was extracted directly from the administrative information systems.
  • 4. Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. (1996). Child welfare reform. In Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (Vol. 3, Chapter 2.3). Ottawa: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Retrieved on Sept. 24, 2008 from: http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/sg/sgmm_e.html
  • 5. Farris-Manning, C., & Zanstra, M. (2003). Children in care in Canada: A summary of current issues and trends with recommendations for future research, position paper. Ottawa: Child Welfare League of Canada.
  • 6. McKenzie, B. (2002). Block funding child maintenance in First Nations child and family services: A policy review. Winnipeg, MB: Kahnawake Shakotila’ takenas Community Services.
  • 7. McKenzie, B., Seidl, E., et al. (1995). Child welfare standards in First Nations. In J. Hudson & B. Galaway (Eds.), Child welfare in Canada: Research and policy implications (pp. 54-65). Toronto: Thomson Educational Press.
  • 8. Office of the Auditor General of Canada. (2008). First Nations Child and Family Service Program, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (Chapter 4). In The May 2008 Report of the Auditor General of Canada. Ottawa: Author. Retrieved on Sept. 24, 2008 from: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_200805_e_30714.html
  • 9. This report focused on First Nations children, defined by First Nations status or First Nations non-status. Child investigations noting other forms of Aboriginal heritage were removed from the data set, including Métis, Inuit and other Aboriginal culture.
  • 10. Data on Aboriginal identity were not collected for cases investigated in Quebec for the CIS-2003, therefore investigations conducted in Quebec were removed from this analysis.

This information sheet is based upon the peer-reviewed report, Trocmé, N., MacLaurin, B.,Fallon, B., Knoke, D., Pitman, L., & McCormack, M. (2006). Mesnmimk Wasatek – Catching a drop of light: Understanding the overrepresentation of First Nations children in Canada’s child welfare system: An analysis of the Canadian incidence study of reported child abuse and neglect (CIS-2003). Toronto: Centre of Excellence for Child Welfare.

About the Authors: 

Bruce MacLaurin is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.

Nico Trocmé is the Director of the Centre for Research on Children and Families at McGill University.

Barbara Fallon in an Assistant Professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto.

Cindy Blackstock is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Lisa Pitman is a Research Analyst – Policy Research and Analysis Branch, Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

Megan McCormack is a School Psychologist in Calgary, Alberta.

Suggested Citation: 

MacLaurin, B., Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., Blackstock, C., Pitman, L. &. McCormack, M. (2006). A comparison of First Nations and non-Aboriginal Children investigated for maltreatment in Canada in 2003. CECW Information Sheet #66E. Toronto, ON, Canada: Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto.