Ontario Incidence Study
What is the OIS?
The Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (OIS) is designed to collect information about the children and families who are investigated by child welfare services on a periodic basis, using a standardized set of definitions, from every jurisdiction in Ontario. There have been four cycles of the study, conducted in 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008.
The OIS-2008 was conducted through a partnership among the federal (Public Health Agency of Canada) and provincial governments, child welfare service providers including provincial level First Nations child welfare organizations, university-based researchers of multiple disciplines, and child advocates.
NOTE: These are findings that reflect the Ontario child welfare system. Data from other related incidence studies (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec) will be released in 2012-2013.
Click here to access all the OIS-2008 Information Sheets
Barbara Fallon and Nico Trocmé with the OIS-2008 Research Team recently initiated several knowledge mobilization activities. One of the OIS-2008 knowledge mobilization projects focuses on increasing research capacity in Ontario child welfare agencies. The objectives of this project include using OIS-2008 data to answer agency-driven research questions relevant to policy and practice, and to promote and facilitate collaboration among the OIS-2008 research team and child welfare agencies. Through collaboration with the OACAS and child welfare agencies across Ontario, agency representatives will work with the OIS-2008 research team over the next year to produce 15 agency-authored information sheets. Barbara Fallon is the Principal Investigator for this project and Nico Trocmé is a co-investigator, with funding provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
If you work at a child welfare agency in Ontario and are interested in participating in this project, or for more information on this and other projects related to the OIS-2008, please contact Barbara Fallon (firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-978-2527) or Melissa Van Wert (email@example.com, 416-978-1386).
What are the limitations of the study?
- Only includes reports to child welfare agencies/offices (i.e., there are children who are not reported or are only reported to police).
- Does not include screened out cases.
- Some data are not directly comparable to previous cycles of the study.
- Data only during the investigation period (initial 6 to 8 weeks of contact; as a result, rates of placement and court involvement do not include events occurring after the investigation.)
- No independent verification of the information provided by investigating workers.
Which child welfare organizations participated in the OIS-2008?
There were 23 sites that participated in the OIS-2008, including Aboriginal agencies. These sites were chosen to represent all Ontario child welfare agencies/offices. Site participation is confidential; the OIS research team will not disclose any information about participating agencies. Participating children’s aid societies do not need to reveal their participation in the study to the media or the public. Sites are randomly sampled from a list of agencies/offices within the province.
Has the incidence of reported child abuse and neglect changed between the OIS-2003 and the OIS-2008?
There has been no change between 2003 and 2008 in the rate of maltreatment-related investigations. An estimated 5% of the population fifteen years and under (or 54.05 per 1,000 children) were the subject of a maltreatment-related investigation in Ontario in 2008, a non-significant increase from the rate of 53.59 per 1,000 reported in 2003.
In contrast, rates of investigated and substantiated maltreatment increased dramatically from 1998 to 2003. This increase was attributed to a number of factors, including (1) changes in public and professional awareness of the problem, (2) changes in legislation or in case-management practices, (3) changes in OIS study procedures and definitions, and (4) changes in the actual rate of maltreatment. For a summary of the 1998 to 2003 changes, you can consult this information sheet.
There was no change in the short-term service outcomes monitored by the OIS between the OIS-2003 and the OIS-2008. The rate and incidence of placement and transfer to ongoing services remained the same between the two cycles (there was no statistically significant difference between the cycles).
What are the major findings of the OIS-2008?
An estimated 6% of investigations resulted in a change of residence for the child at some point during the investigation. In 3% of investigations, the child moved to another parent or relative as an informal arrangement. In 2% of investigations, the child was placed in foster care, kinship care or group care, and in 1% of investigations, the child was placed in residential secure treatment or group homes. The incidence of formal placement was 1.26 per 1,000 children.
Transfer to Ongoing Services:
An estimated 25% of investigations were transferred to ongoing services at the conclusion of the investigation. The incidence of transfers to ongoing services was 13.31 per 1,000 children.
Child welfare court:
An estimated 3% of investigations involved the use of child welfare court (an incidence of 1.49 per 1,000 children).
Can results published in the OIS-2008 Major Findings Report be compared to results published in previous reports?
No. Due to methodological difference among the four cycles the reports cannot be directly compared without further analyses.
What is a risk only investigation?
In the OIS-2008, a risk only investigation is an investigation where there is no specific allegation about the abuse or neglect of a child, but there are serious concerns about other issues in the family (e.g., substance abuse, mental health, cognitive impairments) that may put a child at risk for abuse and neglect. Risk investigations assess the likelihood that the child will be maltreated in the future.
Risk only investigations were not explicitly measured in previous cycles of the OIS, while they are explicitly measured in the OIS-2008.
How is child maltreatment defined in the OIS?
Maltreatment occurs when a child experiences specific events that endanger her/his physical or emotional health. The OIS-2008 provides provincial information on 32 forms of child maltreatment investigated by child welfare agencies, subsumed under five categories: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment and exposure to intimate partner violence. The OIS-2008 also provides information on the characteristics and circumstances of the investigated children and their families, and the services provided by child welfare and other social service agencies.
What does substantiated maltreatment mean?
Child welfare statutes in most jurisdictions require that professionals working with children and the general public report all situations where there is a concern of child abuse or neglect. The investigation phase is designed to determine whether the child was in fact maltreated. Some jurisdictions use a two-tiered substantiation classification system that distinguishes between verified and non-verified cases. The OIS uses a three-tiered classification system:
Substantiated: An allegation of maltreatment is considered substantiated if the balance of evidence indicates that abuse or neglect has occurred.
Suspected: An allegation of maltreatment is suspected if there is not enough evidence to substantiate maltreatment, but maltreatment cannot be ruled out.
Unfounded: An allegation of maltreatment is unfounded if the balance of evidence indicates that abuse or neglect has not occurred. The vast majority of unfounded cases are based on reports of possible maltreatment made in good faith. Intentionally false reports are rare.
What are the primary categories of substantiated maltreatment in the OIS-2008?
Thirty-nine percent of substantiation investigations involved exposure to domestic violence (either directly witnessing physical violence, indirect exposure to physical violence, or exposure to emotional violence) and another 31% of substantiated investigations involved neglect (includes forms such as failure to supervise, physical neglect, medical or dental neglect, and educational neglect). Twenty-one percent of substantiated investigations involved physical abuse (includes forms such as shake, push or throw, hit with hand, and hit with object), 7% involved emotional maltreatment (includes forms such as terrorizing or threats, verbal abuse and inadequate nurturing or affection), and 2% involved sexual abuse (includes forms such as fondling, attempted penetration and sex talk or images).
In 12% of investigations, more than one type of maltreatment was substantiated.
How often are children harmed?
In 7% of substantiated investigations, the investigating worker noted some type of physical harm: 4% involved minor harm not requiring medical treatment, and 3% involved physical harm where treatment was required. In 26% of substantiated investigations, the worker noted emotional harm for the child. In 17% of substantiated investigations, symptoms of emotional harm were severe enough to require treatment.
Has the decline in child sexual abuse investigations between 1998 and 2003 continued in 2008?
Further analysis is required in order to evaluate the data regarding sexual abuse investigations. OIS researchers are currently studying this question.
Has reported internet exploitation increased or decreased?
The specific forms of maltreatment collected in the study have not been analyzed.
Are Aboriginal children over-represented in the child welfare system?
Aboriginal children continue to be over-represented in substantiated cases of child maltreatment. While 3% of the Canadian child population is Aboriginal, 11% of the victims of substantiated child maltreatment in OIS-2008 were of Aboriginal heritage. The OIS-2008 data related to Aboriginal children are a priority for further analysis. OIS researchers worked with the CIS-2008 First Nations Advisory committee to complete a First Nations specific report based on data collected by the OIS-2008. This report was released in November, 2011, and is currently available on the Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal (www.cwrp.ca).
Why are the OIS studies important?
Prior to the first cycle of the OIS in 1993, there were no reliable provincial data on the reported incidence of child abuse and neglect in Ontario. Reliable information at this level of detail can help to improve screening and investigative procedures, and assist with targeting and tailoring programs designed to support and assist children who have been maltreated.
If you would like to refer the media to a member of the OIS-2008 Research Team, please see the following email address:
Barbara Fallon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Health Agency of Canada’s Injury and Child Maltreatment Section at www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cm-vee/public-eng.php