Is child abuse declining in Canada? An analysis of child welfare data


Collin-Vézina, Delphine
Hélie, Sonia
Trocmé, Nico

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Year of Publication: 
Child Abuse and Neglect, Volume 34, Issue 11, pp. 807-812.

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a social problem associated with trauma symptoms, such as depression and substance abuse. Research from the United States suggests a decline in investigated and substantiated child welfare CSA cases. Data from a self-report survey by Statistics Canada indicate an increase in sexual assault among Canadians 15 years and older reported from 1993 to 1999. Less severe types of sexual abuse, which typically involved children, have remained stable over the same time period. The Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) data suggest a decline in the number of substantiated CSA child welfare cases across Canada. Conversely, the CIS data indicate an increase in all other forms of child maltreatment during the same time period. This study aimed to test whether CSA substantiation standards have become more conservative resulting in lower substantiation rates. The results, which are based on the CIS-1998 and CIS-2003, do not support the hypothesis that more stringent standards were applied in the decision of whether or not to substantiate child CSA. The Ontario Incidence Studies of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (OIS) indicate a decrease in rate of substantiated CSA cases, whereas the Quebec Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse, Neglect, Abandonment and Serious Behaviour Problems suggests an increase in incidents of substantiated CSA cases between 1998 and 2003. Considering the various sources of data authors suggest CSA trends in Canada do not mimic those in the United States and it would be imprudent to conclude CSA has been declining in Canada.

Type of Publication: 
Journal article
Canadian CW research