Canadian Research in Brief

The intersection of child custody disputes and child protection investigtions: secondary data analysis of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS-2008)

(2016), International Journal of Child and Adolescent Resilience, 4(1), 143-157.

Black, Tara

Saini, Michael

Fallon, Barbara

Deljavan, Sevil

Theoduloz, Ricardo

Wall, Michael

Parental conflict has been found to be a significant predictor of children’s maladjustment post separation. This study identifies child custody dispute characteristics that are associated with child protection investigations using data from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, 2008 (CIS-2008).  It examined whether investigations with noted child custody disputes differ from those investigations that do not have such disputes.

Of the estimated 235,842 child protection investigations in Canada in 2008, an estimated 29,218 investigations had noted child custody dispute cases. Approximately 23% of child custody dispute investigations involved allegations of neglect, 20.3% involved exposure to intimate partner violence, 16.7% of investigations involved an allegation of physical abuse, 9.7% involved emotional maltreatment, and 5.3% involved an allegation of sexual abuse. Investigations with noted custody disputes are significantly different from investigations without custody disputes. For example, investigations involving custody disputes were more likely to have been investigated for emotional maltreatment (9% vs. 6%), involve a malicious referral (25% vs. 12%), involve a caregiver with drug or solvent abuse (17% vs. 13%) or mental health issues (27% vs. 20%). The authors note the significant overlap between custody disputes and exposure to intimate partner violence. Investigations involving custody disputes were significantly less likely to result in out of home placements or to stay open for ongoing child welfare services than those without custody disputes, even when controlling for child, household, and maltreatment risk factors. This could mean that child protection services are prematurely closing custody cases.