The more we change the more we stay the same: Canadian child welfare systems’ response to child well-being

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Fallon, B., Joh-Carnella, N., Houston, E., Livingston, E., & Trocmé, N. (2023). The more we change the more we stay the same: Canadian child welfare systems’ response to child well-being. Child Abuse and Neglect, 137. 



Child welfare services in Canada are guided by a dual mandate: to protect children from imminent harm and to promote their optimal development and well-being. To understand how child welfare systems respond to this dual mandate, Trocmé et al. (2014) developed a taxonomy to classify child welfare investigations as either being related to urgent protection or chronic needs.


To extend Trocmé et al.'s (2014) analysis using data from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect 2019 (CIS-2019).

Participants and setting

The CIS-2019 employs a file review methodology to collect information on child maltreatment-related investigations conducted in Canada in 2019. The study's unweighted sample included 41,948 investigations involving children aged 0–15 years.


Secondary analyses of the CIS-2019 were conducted including frequency counts and bivariate analyses.


Ninety percent of investigations conducted in Canada in 2019 were focused on concerns related to chronic needs. Most investigations (90.9 % of urgent protection investigations and 98.3 % of chronic needs investigations) did not involve physical harm to the child. Urgent protection investigations were less likely to have been previously investigated and more likely to be substantiated, involve a child welfare court application, or involve a placement in out-of-home care.


Most child welfare investigations in Canada continue to be focused on chronic needs. Yet, the investigation response seems designed to respond to urgent protection concerns. A truly differential model is needed to appropriately respond to the dual mandate of Canadian child welfare services and better serve children and families.