Canadian Research in Brief

Why are suspected cases of child maltreatment referred by educators so often unsubstantiated?

(2014), Child Abuse and Neglect, 38(1): 1-10.

King, Colin B.

Scott, Katreena L.

Education professionals are in a unique position to report suspected child maltreatment due to their frequency of contact with children and parents. The often longitudinal nature of this contact means that educators can potentially observe and report chronic instances of maltreatment as well as critical incidents. Despite this position, past research indicates that educator referrals to child welfare services are unsubstantiated at a higher rate than other professionals (e.g., police, physicians).

This study conducted secondary data analysis on the 2003 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS-2003), to determine what characteristics may account for this rate of non-substantiation. In analyzing a total of 7725 investigations, the authors found that educators account for approximately 36% of referrals made to child welfare services by professionals. Findings indicated that concerns reported by educators were significantly more likely to be unsubstantiated compared to referrals made by other professionals across all forms of maltreatment (45.3% vs. 28.4%, respectively). After controlling for child, caregiver and family risk factors, reports made by educators remained more likely to be unsubstantiated than those made by other professionals. Further analysis of unsubstantiated cases revealed that educators were more likely than other professionals to report chronic cases of maltreatment and those with previous child protection involvement, however, no differences were found with respect to cases involving injury. Further, educators were found to be more likely than other professionals to report cases where child functioning concerns were present, as opposed to caregiver and demographic risk factors. In contrast, the authors suggest that caregiver and environmental risk factors tend to be stronger predictors of substantiation.