Previous Case Openings in Substantiated Child Maltreatment Investigations in Ontario in 2008

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


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 examines previous case openings among substantiated child maltreatment investigations, specifically examining previous case openings across the five primary categories of maltreatment.
 

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.

For maltreatment investigations, information was collected regarding the primary form of maltreatment investigated as well as the level of substantiation for that maltreatment. Thirty-two forms of maltreatment were listed on the data collection instrument, and these were collapsed into five broad categories: physical abuse (e.g., hit with hand), sexual abuse (e.g., exploitation), neglect (e.g., educational neglect), emotional maltreatment (e.g., verbal abuse or belittling), and exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) (e.g., direct witness to physical violence). Workers listed the primary concern for the investigation, and could also list secondary and tertiary concerns.

For each form of maltreatment listed, workers assigned a level of substantiation. Maltreatment could be substantiated (i.e., balance of evidence indicated that the maltreatment had occurred), suspected (i.e., maltreatment could not be confirmed or ruled out), or unfounded (i.e., balance of evidence indicated that the maltreatment had not occurred).

Workers were asked to indicate whether the family previously had an open file with a child welfare agency/office, based on documentation of this or disclosure by the family. Response options included yes, no, and unknown.
 

Previous Case Openings across Substantiated Maltreatment Types

In 2008, an estimated 128,749 maltreatment-related investigations were conducted in Ontario. Of these investigations, an estimated 38,572 (30%) were substantiated maltreatment investigations. Exposure to IPV was the focus of a large proportion of substantiated investigations (39% of substantiated investigations, or an estimated 15,087 investigations). In 21% (7,936) of substantiated investigations, the primary concern was physical abuse. Seven percent (2,884) of substantiated investigations focused on emotional maltreatment, and another 2% (771) focused on sexual abuse.

Figure 1 presents previous case openings among substantiated investigations in Ontario in 2008. In 36% of substantiated investigations, the case had never been previously opened (estimated 13,725). In 18% of substantiated investigations, the case had been opened once previously (estimated 7,078), and in 19%, the case had been opened two or three times before (estimated 7,451). Of all substantiated investigations that had been previously opened, many had been opened more than three times before (26% of all substantiated investigations or an estimated 10,137). In a small number of cases (180, or 1% of substantiated investigations), the worker did not know whether or not the case had been previously opened.
 

Figure 1: Previous case openings in substantiated child maltreatment investigations in Ontario in 2008

 

Figure 2 displays previous case openings in substantiated investigations, specifically looking at the five primary maltreatment categories.

Approximately half of substantiated sexual abuse investigations had never been previously opened (53%, or an estimated 406). In 45% of substantiated physical abuse cases (3,579), and 40% of substantiated exposure to IPV cases (6,057), the case had never been previously opened. Approximately one third of emotional maltreatment investigations (34%, or an estimated 983) had never been opened previously. Only 22% of substantiated neglect investigations had never been previously opened.

Approximately one-fifth of substantiated investigations of neglect (19% or an estimated 2,301 investigations), exposure to IPV (19% or an estimated 2,842), and emotional maltreatment (22% or an estimated 625 investigations) were previously opened once. In 16% of substantiated physical abuse investigations (estimated 1,264), the case had been opened once before.
 

Figure 2: Previous case openings in substantiated child maltreatment investigations in Ontario in 2008

 

Twenty percent of substantiated exposure to IPV investigations (an estimated 3,062) were previously opened two or three times, and another 20% were previously opened more than three times (an estimated 2,997). Nineteen percent of substantiated neglect investigations (an estimated 2,290) were previously opened two or three times, and an additional 39% were previously opened more than three times (an estimated 4,589). In 18% of substantiated physical abuse investigations (an estimated 1,447), the case had been previously opened two or three times, and in another 20% (an estimated 1,608), the case had been opened more than three times before. Within substantiated sexual abuse investigations, 14% (an estimated 104) had been opened two or three times in the past, while 28% (an estimated 215) had been opened more than three times. In 19% of substantiated emotional maltreatment investigations (an estimated 548), the case had been opened two or three times in the past, and in another 25% (an estimated 728), the case had been opened more than three times previously. Overall, substantiated investigations of neglect were least likely to have never been previously opened.
 

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 term service events that occur beyond the initial investigation.

Suggested Citation: 

Ma, J., Smith, C., Van Wert, M., & Fallon, B. (2012). Previous Case Openings in Substantiated Child Maltreatment Investigations in Ontario in 2008. Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal: Toronto, ON.