Frequently Asked Questions: OIS-2013

What are the limitations of the study?

  • Only includes reports to child welfare agencies (i.e., excludes maltreatment that is not reported or only reported to police).
  • Does not include screened out cases.
  • Some data are not directly comparable to previous cycles of the study.
  • Data only during the investigation period (initial 6 to 8 weeks of contact; as a result, rates of placement and court involvement do not include events occurring after the investigation.)
  • No independent verification of the information provided by investigating workers.

Which child welfare organizations participated in the OIS-2013?

There were 17 sites that participated in the OIS-2013, including Indigenous agencies. These sites were chosen to represent all Ontario child welfare agencies. Site participation is confidential; the OIS research team will not disclose any information about participating agencies. Participating children’s aid societies do not need to reveal their participation in the study to the media or the public. Sites are randomly sampled from a list of agencies within the province.

Has the incidence of reported child abuse and neglect changed between the OIS-2008 and the OIS-2013?

There has been no change between 2008 and 2013 in the rate of maltreatment-related investigations. An estimated 5% of the population fifteen years and under (or 53.32 per 1,000 children) were the subject of a maltreatment-related investigation in Ontario in 2013, a non-significant decrease from the rate of 54.05 per 1,000 reported in 2008.

There was also no significant change in the rate of maltreatment-related investigations between 2003 and 2008. However, rates of investigated and substantiated maltreatment increased dramatically from 1998 to 2003. This increase was attributed to a number of factors, including (1) changes in public and professional awareness of the problem, (2) changes in legislation or in case-management practices, (3) changes in OIS study procedures and definitions, and (4) changes in the actual rate of maltreatment. For a summary of the 1998 to 2003 changes, you can consult this information sheet.

There were no significant changes in the rates of substantiation or short-term service outcomes monitored by the OIS between the OIS-2008 and the OIS-2013. There was no statistically significant difference between the cycles in the rate and incidence of substantiation, placement, and transfer to ongoing services.

What are the major findings of the OIS-2013?

An estimated 3% of investigations resulted in an out-of-home placement for the child at some point during the investigation. In 1% of investigations, the child moved to another parent or relative as an informal arrangement. In 2% of investigations, the child was placed in foster care, and in less than 1% of investigations, the child was placed in residential secure treatment or group homes. The incidence of formal placement was 1.02 per 1,000 children.

Transfer to Ongoing Services: 
An estimated 25% of investigations were transferred to ongoing services at the conclusion of the investigation. The incidence of transfers to ongoing services was 13.12 per 1,000 children.

Child welfare court: 
An estimated 3% of investigations involved the use of child welfare court (an incidence of 1.37 per 1,000 children).

Can results published in the OIS-2013 Major Findings Report be compared to results published in previous reports?

As a result of changes in the way cases are identified, the OIS-2013 report can only be directly compared to the OIS-2008, but not to previous OIS reports.

What is a risk only investigation?

In 2008, the OIS began tracking two streams of investigations – investigated incidents of maltreatment and risk only investigations. In the OIS-2008 and OIS-2013, a risk only investigation is an investigation where there is no specific allegation about the abuse or neglect of a child, but there are serious concerns about other issues in the family (e.g., caregiver substance abuse, mental health issues, or cognitive impairments) that may put a child at risk for abuse and neglect. Risk investigations assess the likelihood that the child will be maltreated in the future.

Risk only investigations were not explicitly measured in the first three cycles of the OIS, while they were explicitly measured in the OIS-2008 and OIS-2013.

How is child maltreatment defined in the OIS?

Maltreatment occurs when a child experiences specific events that endanger her/his/their physical or emotional health. The OIS-2013 provides provincial information on 32 forms of child maltreatment investigated by child welfare agencies, subsumed under five categories: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment and exposure to intimate partner violence. The OIS-2013 also provides information on the characteristics and circumstances of the investigated children and their families, and the services provided by child welfare and other social service agencies.

What does substantiated maltreatment mean?

Child welfare statutes in most jurisdictions require that professionals working with children and the general public report all situations where there is a concern of child abuse or neglect. The investigation phase is designed to determine whether the child was in fact maltreated. Some jurisdictions use a two-tiered substantiation classification system that distinguishes between verified and non-verified cases. The OIS uses a three-tiered classification system:

Substantiated: An allegation of maltreatment is considered substantiated if the balance of evidence indicates that abuse or neglect has occurred.

Suspected: An allegation of maltreatment is suspected if there is not enough evidence to substantiate maltreatment, but maltreatment cannot be ruled out.

Unfounded: An allegation of maltreatment is unfounded if the balance of evidence indicates that abuse or neglect has not occurred. The vast majority of unfounded cases are based on reports of possible maltreatment made in good faith. Intentionally false reports are rare.

What are the primary categories of substantiated maltreatment in the OIS-2013?

Forty-eight percent of substantiated investigations involved exposure to intimate partner violence (either directly witnessing physical violence, indirectly being exposed to physical violence, or being exposed to emotional violence) and another 24% of substantiated investigations involved neglect (includes forms such as failure to supervise, physical neglect, medical or dental neglect, and educational neglect). Thirteen percent of substantiated investigations involved physical abuse (includes forms such as shake, push or throw; hit with hand; and hit with object), 13% involved emotional maltreatment (includes forms such as terrorizing or threats, verbal abuse, and inadequate nurturing or affection), and 2% involved sexual abuse (includes forms such as fondling, attempted penetration, and sex talk or images).

In 13% of investigations, more than one type of maltreatment was substantiated.

How often are children harmed?

In 5% of substantiated investigations in 2013, the investigating worker noted some type of physical harm: 4% involved minor harm not requiring medical treatment, and 1% involved physical harm where treatment was required. In 35% of substantiated investigations, the worker noted emotional harm for the child. In 22% of substantiated investigations, symptoms of emotional harm were severe enough to require treatment.

Are Indigenous children over-represented in the child welfare system?

Indigenous children continue to be over-represented in substantiated cases of child maltreatment. While 6% of the Ontario child population was Indigenous in 2016, 9% of the victims of substantiated child maltreatment in OIS-2013 were of Indigenous heritage, and Indigenous children were almost three times more likely to be victims of substantiated maltreatment than non-Indigenous children. The OIS-2013 data related to Indigenous children are a priority for further analysis. OIS researchers worked with the CIS-2008 First Nations Advisory Committee to complete a First Nations specific report based on data collected by the OIS-2008. This report was released in November 2011, and is currently available here. The upcoming cycle of the First Nations/Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (FNIS/CIS-2019) is a project of the Assembly of First Nations, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada through a contribution agreement. Under the guidance of the FNIS/CIS-2019 First Nations Advisory Committee, this study will place a particular emphasis on First Nations children.

Why are the OIS studies important?

Prior to the first cycle of the OIS in 1993, there were no reliable provincial data on the reported incidence of child abuse and neglect in Ontario. Reliable information at this level of detail can help to improve screening and investigative procedures, and assist with targeting and tailoring programs designed to support and assist children who have been maltreated.


If you would like to refer the media to a member of the OIS-2013 Research Team, please contact:

Barbara Fallon at