Third cycle of national study documents incidence of reported child maltreatment and child and family characteristics across Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect – 2008: Major Findings. Ottawa, 2010.
The 2008 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS-2008) represents the third cycle of a national child maltreatment incidence study. The study collected information on a sample of 15,980 child welfare investigations that were opened in 2008. For the first time in CIS history, the 2008 cycle separately examined risk investigations, defined as those investigations in which there was no specific incident of maltreatment alleged or suspected, but rather the worker was assessing the risk that maltreatment may occur in the future (e.g., parent-teen conflict, infant apprehension from the hospital). Risk investigations represented 26% of all child-maltreatment-related investigations in the CIS-2008, with the remaining 74% identified as maltreatment investigations. The inclusion of risk in the CIS-2008 represents an important step forward in child welfare research. However, risk investigations were not measured in the CIS-1998 or CIS-2003, so comparisons across cycles should be made with care.
Major findings from the study include:
- Incidence of investigations: It is estimated that 235,842 child-maltreatment-related investigations (i.e., investigations of both maltreatment and future risk of maltreatment) were conducted in Canada, in 2008. This corresponds to an annual incidence rate of 39.16 investigations per 1,000 children, a rate that is not significantly different from 2003 (38.33 investigations per 1,000 children).
- Substantiation: Of all child-maltreatment-related investigations, 36% determined that the incident of maltreatment was substantiated; 8% determined that the incident of maltreatment may have occurred but there was insufficient evidence to substantiate it; 30% determined that the incident of maltreatment was unfounded; 5% determined that there was a risk of future maltreatment; 17% determined that there was no risk of future maltreatment; and 4% determined that the risk of future maltreatment was uncertain.
- Outcomes of investigations: Eight percent of investigations resulted in a change of residence for the child. In 27% of investigations, the case remained open for ongoing services. Five percent of cases resulted in an application to court.
- Types of maltreatment and harm: Among substantiated cases of maltreatment, exposure to intimate partner violence and neglect were the most common forms of maltreatment (each 34% of substantiated investigations). In 20% of substantiated maltreatment investigations, physical abuse was the primary concern. Emotional abuse was the primary concern in 9% of substantiated maltreatment investigations, and sexual abuse was the primary concern in 3% of all substantiated maltreatment investigations. Physical harm was documented in 8% of cases, and emotional harm in 29% of cases.
- Aboriginal heritage: While 5% of children in Canada are Aboriginal 22% of substantiated cases in the CIS-2008 involved Aboriginal children. It is important to consider Aboriginal heritage when conducting child welfare research in order to better understand the risk factors associated with this overrepresentation.
- Child functioning: In 46% of substantiated cases, at least one child functioning issue was documented by the child protection worker. Academic difficulties were the most frequently reported functioning concern among substantiated cases (23%) and the second most common was depression/anxiety/withdrawal (19%).
- Caregiver functioning: In 78% of substantiated cases, one or more functioning concerns was noted by the investigating worker, most commonly being a victim of domestic violence (46%), having few social supports (39%), and mental health issues (27%).
The CIS-2008 used a multi-stage sampling design, in which first, 112 child welfare agencies were selected for participation across Canada; second, cases opened from October to December 2008 were sampled; and third, investigated children within these cases were identified. Children age 15 and under were included. The unit of analysis is the child-maltreatment-related investigation. Data were collected using a three page data collection instrument, completed by the investigating worker at the point when he or she finished their written report of the initial investigation (approximately six weeks after the start of the investigation). The study used a standardized data collection form based on investigation information that is commonly gathered in all jurisdictions across Canada. Weights were applied in order to derive national annual incidence estimates.
Events occurring after the initial investigation are not taken into account in the study. Cases opened more than once for investigation during the study period were unduplicated, but an unknown number of “duplicate” cases are included in the annual estimates (i.e., children or families reported and opened for investigation two or more times during the year). The study is limited to reports investigated by child welfare and does not include reports that were screened out, cases investigated only by police, or cases that were never reported. Data are not independently verified. Finally, the weights used were not designed to estimate seasonal variation in case characteristics, nor within region variation in per capita investigation rates.