OIS-2008: Examination of Investigations Referred to Child Welfare Authorities by Police

Author(s): 
Fallon, B., Ma, J., Smith, C., & Van Wert, M.


Introduction

The Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, 2008 (OIS-2008) is the fourth provincial study to examine the incidence of reported child maltreatment and the characteristics of children and families investigated by child welfare authorities in Ontario. This fact sheet will examine the profile of investigations in which the police made the referral to child welfare authorities.
 

Background to the OIS-2008

From 1998 to 2003, the OIS found that rates of investigated maltreatment had doubled. This pattern may reflect changes in detection, reporting, and investigation practices rather than an increase in the number of children being abused and neglected. Four changes are particularly important to consider: increased reporting by professionals, increased reports of emotional maltreatment and exposure to intimate partner violence, more children investigated in each family, and increased substantiation rates. These changes are consistent with shifts in the context of Ontario child welfare.

Due to changes in investigation mandates and practices over the last 10 years, the OIS-2008 differed from previous cycles in that it tracked both risk-only investigations and maltreatment investigations. Risk-only investigations were those in which a specific past incident of maltreatment was not suspected or alleged to have occurred, but rather a constellation of factors lead to concerns that a child may be maltreated in the future (e.g., caregiver with a substance misuse issue).
 

Methodology

The OIS-2008 used a multi-stage sampling design to select a representative sample of 23 child welfare agencies in Ontario and then to select a sample of cases within these agencies. Information was collected directly from child protection workers on a representative sample of 7,471 child protection investigations conducted during a three-month sampling period in 2008. This sample was weighted to reflect provincial annual estimates.

Workers were asked to indicate all of the sources of referral applicable to each case. This referred to separate and independent contacts with the child welfare agency. Workers could endorse up to 19 separate referral sources, one of which was police.
 

Select Comparisons of Investigations Referred by Police and Investigations Referred by Other Sources

In 2008, an estimated 128,749 maltreatment-related investigations were conducted in Ontario. Of these investigations, an estimated 29,525 (23%) were referred to child welfare authorities by police. In an estimated 99,224 investigations (77%), the case was not referred to child welfare authorities by police but by a different source (e.g., school, hospital, relative, etc.).

Figure 1 presents the types of investigations conducted across Ontario in 2008. In an estimated 21,649 (73%) investigations referred by police, the case involved a maltreatment concern. In the remaining 27% of investigations (estimated 7,876), the case involved a risk assessment. For investigations referred by sources other than police, the focus of the investigation was a maltreatment concern in an estimated 65,377 (66%) cases, and the focus was a risk assessment in 33,847 investigations (34%).
 

Figure 1: Type of child maltreatment investigations in Ontario in 2008

Figure 2 describes the primary category of maltreatment among investigations conducted in 2008. Of the estimated 21,649 maltreatment investigations referred by police, the primary concern of the investigation was physical abuse in approximately 1,545 cases (7%), sexual abuse in 544 cases (3%), neglect in 4,291 cases (20%), emotional maltreatment in 1,315 cases (6%), and exposure to intimate partner violence in 13,954 cases (64%).

Of the estimated 65,377 maltreatment investigations referred by sources other than the police, the primary concern of the investigation was physical abuse in 21,516 cases (33%), sexual abuse in 4,100 cases (6%), neglect in 24,617 cases (38%), emotional maltreatment in 6,725 cases (10%), and exposure to intimate partner violence in 8,419 cases (13%).
 

Figure 2: Primary category of child maltreatment investigations in Ontario in 2008

Figure 3 describes substantiation decisions resulting from maltreatment investigations conducted across Ontario in 2008. Of the estimated 21,649 maltreatment investigations referred by police, 14,211 investigations were substantiated (66%) by the investigating worker, 2,176 investigations were suspected (10%), and 5,262 investigations were unfounded (24%).
 

Figure 3: Level of substantiation of child maltreatment investigations in Ontario in 2008

Of the estimated 65,377 maltreatment investigations referred by sources other than the police, 24,360 investigations were substantiated (37%) by the investigating worker, 6,464 investigations were suspected (10%), and 34,552 investigations were unfounded (53%).

Figure 4 presents service disposition decisions resulting from maltreatment-related investigations conducted across Ontario in 2008. Of the estimated 29,525 investigations referred to child welfare authorities by police, 7,943 (27%) were opened for ongoing service, and 16,502 (56%) received a referral to a service internal or external to the agency (i.e., a service run by the child welfare agency or a service run by a different social service, such as a food bank). A court application was made in 3% (estimated 778) of investigations referred by police, and in an estimated 1,841 cases (6%), the investigation resulted in an informal or formal placement for the child.

Of the estimated 99,224 investigations referred to child welfare authorities by a source other than police, 23,758 (24%) were opened for ongoing service, and 43,431 (44%) received a referral to a service internal or external to the agency. A court application was made in 3% (estimated 2,773) of investigations referred by sources other than police, and in an estimated 4,950 cases (5%), the investigation resulted in an informal or formal placement for the child.
 

Figure 4: Provision of services following child maltreatment-related investigations in Ontario in 2008

Figure 5 describes physical and mental/emotional harm for investigations conducted in Ontario in 2008. Of the 16,387 investigations referred by police that were substantiated or suspected, physical harm to the child as a result of maltreatment was present in an estimated 475 (3%) cases, and mental or emotional harm was evident in 3,480 (21%) cases.

Of the 30,824 investigations referred by sources other than police that were substantiated or suspected, physical harm to the child as a result of maltreatment was present in an estimated 4,541 (15%) cases, and mental or emotional harm was evident in 7,858 (25%) cases.
 

Figure 5: Physical harm and mental/emotional harm in child maltreatment-related investigations in Ontario in 2008



Overall, investigations referred by police were more likely to involve a maltreatment concern in comparison to investigations referred by sources other than police. Of the maltreatment investigations referred by police, the primary concern of over half of the investigations was exposure to intimate partner violence. Among investigations referred by sources other than police, the primary concern of most of the investigations was either physical abuse or neglect. Investigations referred by police were more likely to be substantiated in comparison to investigations referred by sources other than police. Maltreatment-related investigations referred by police, compared to those referred by other sources, were similar in terms of service disposition. The only exception to this is that maltreatment-related investigations referred by police were more likely to result in the investigating worker referring the child and/or family to social services internal or external to the agency. Lastly, in comparison to investigations referred by police that were substantiated or suspected, physical harm to the child as a result of maltreatment was present in more of the substantiated or suspected investigations that were referred by sources other than police.
 

Limitations of the OIS-2008

The OIS-2008 does not include information about unreported maltreatment, or cases that were only investigated by police. Reports that were made to child welfare authorities but screened out before they were investigated are not included, and reports on cases currently open at the time of case selection are also not included. The study does not track longer service events that occur beyond the initial investigation.
 

Suggested Citation: 

Fallon, B., Ma, J., Smith, C., & Van Wert, M. (2012). OIS-2008: Examination of Investigations Referred to Child Welfare Authorities by Police.

Keywords: