The Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (OIS) is designed to collect information about the children and families who are investigated by child welfare services on a periodic basis, using a standardized set of definitions, from every jurisdiction in Ontario. There have been six cycles of the study, conducted in 1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018.
NOTE: These are findings that reflect the Ontario child welfare system. Please also note that publications related to the OIS are often only available in English.
- What are the limitations of the study?
- Which child welfare organizations participated in the OIS-2018?
- Has the incidence of reported child abuse and neglect changed between the OIS-2013 and the OIS-2018?
- What are the major findings of the OIS-2018?
- Can results published in the OIS-2018 Major Findings Report be compared to results published in previous reports?
- What is a risk only investigation?
- How is child maltreatment defined in the OIS?
- What does substantiated maltreatment mean?
- What are the primary categories of substantiated maltreatment in the OIS-2018?
- How often are children harmed?
- Are Indigenous children over-represented in the child welfare system?
- Why are the OIS studies important?
Although every effort was made to make the OIS-2018 estimates precise and reliable, several limitations inherent to the nature of the data collected must be taken into consideration:
- As a result of changes in the way risk only cases are identified in the OIS-2008, OIS-2013, and OIS-2018, comparisons between all study cycles must be done with caution. While tables in the OIS-2018, OIS-2013, and OIS-2008 may be compared, tables in the OIS-2018 report cannot be directly compared to tables in the OIS-2003, OIS-1998, and OIS- 1993 reports;
- The weights used to derive annual estimates include counts of children investigated more than once during the year; therefore, the unit of analysis for the weighted estimates is a child investigation;
- The OIS tracks information during approximately the first 45 days of case activity; service outcomes such as out-of-home placements and applications to court only include events that occurred during those first approximately 45 days;
- The provincial counts presented in this report are weighted estimates. In some instances sample sizes are too small to derive publishable estimates;
- The OIS only tracks reports investigated by child welfare agencies and does not include reports that were screened out, cases that were only investigated by the police, and cases that were never reported; and
- The study is based on the assessments provided by the investigating child welfare workers and could not be independently verified.
A representative sample of 18 child welfare agencies was selected for inclusion in the OIS-2018 using a stratified random sampling approach. Participation was voluntary. The term “child welfare agency” describes any organization that has the authority to conduct child protection investigations. In Ontario, agencies serve the full population in a specific geographic area; however, in some instances several agencies may serve different populations in the same area on the basis of religion or Indigenous heritage. There are specific agencies in Ontario which only provide services to Indigenous children and families, and other agencies can be considered mainstream child welfare agencies.
Site participation is confidential; the OIS research team will not disclose any information about participating agencies. Participating child welfare agencies do not need to reveal their participation in the study to the media or the public.
Has the incidence of reported child abuse and neglect changed between the OIS-2013 and the OIS-2018?
There was no statistically significant increase in the rate of maltreatment-related investigations involving 0 to 15 year olds between 2013 and 2018. In 2018, an estimated 148,536 investigations were conducted for children aged 0 - 15, representing a rate of 62.89 investigations per 1,000 children. In 2018, the age of protection in Ontario increased from under 16 to under 18. The OIS-2018 captured information on all children under 18, and an estimated 319,910 investigated were conducted for 16 and 17 year olds (31.07 investigations per 1,000 children aged 16-17).
There were no significant changes in the rates of substantiation or short-term service outcomes monitored by the OIS between the OIS-2013 and the OIS-2018. There was no statistically significant difference between these cycles in the rate and incidence of substantiation, placement, and transfer to ongoing services.
In 2018, there were no placements in 97 percent of the investigations. Three percent of investigations resulted in a change of residence for the child: two percent to informal kinship; one percent to foster care; and less than one percent to residential/secure treatment or group homes.
Transfer to Ongoing Services:
Twenty percent of investigations in 2018 were identified as remaining open for ongoing services while 80 percent of investigations were closed.
Child welfare court:
In the OIS-2018, two percent of all child investigations resulted in an application to child welfare court, either during or at the completion of the initial investigation.
Can results published in the OIS-2018 Major Findings Report be compared to results published in previous reports?
As a result of changes in the way cases are identified, the OIS-2018 report can only be directly compared to the OIS-2008 and the OIS-2013, but not to previous OIS reports.
Because the OIS was designed to track investigations of alleged incidents of maltreatment, it is important to maintain a clear distinction between risk of future maltreatment and investigations of maltreatment that may have already occurred. Beginning in the 2008 cycle, the OIS was redesigned to separately track both types of cases. In the OIS-2008, OIS-2013, and OIS-2018, a risk only investigation is an investigation where the primary concern was that a child may be at risk of future maltreatment but there was no specific form of maltreatment alleged or suspected. However, based on the circumstances, a child is at risk for maltreatment in the future due to a milieu of risk factors. For example, a child living with a caregiver who abuses substances may be deemed at risk of future maltreatment even if no form of maltreatment has been alleged.
Risk only investigations were not explicitly measured in the first three cycles of the OIS, while they were explicitly measured in the OIS-2008, OIS-2013, and OIS-2018.
Maltreatment occurs when a child experiences specific events that endanger her/his/their physical or emotional health. The OIS-2018 definition of child maltreatment includes 33 forms of maltreatment subsumed under five categories of maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment, and exposure to intimate partner violence. The OIS-2018 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.
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: the balance of evidence indicates that abuse or neglect has occurred
Suspected: insufficient evidence to substantiate abuse or neglect, but maltreatment cannot be ruled out
Unfounded: the balance of evidence indicates that abuse or neglect has not occurred (unfounded does not mean that a referral was inappropriate or malicious; it simply indicates that the investigating worker determined that the child had not been maltreated)
Exposure to intimate partner violence (either directly witnessing physical violence, indirectly being exposed to physical violence, or being exposed to emotional violence) represents the largest proportion of substantiated maltreatment investigations. Nearly half (45 percent) of all substantiated investigations identified exposure to intimate partner violence as the primary form of maltreatment. In 21 percent of substantiated investigations, neglect (includes forms such as failure to supervise, physical neglect, medical or dental neglect, and educational neglect) was identified as the overriding concern. In 19 percent of substantiated investigations, the primary form of maltreatment identified was physical abuse (includes forms such as shake, push or throw; hit with hand; and hit with object). Emotional maltreatment (includes forms such as terrorizing or threats, verbal abuse, and inadequate nurturing or affection) was identified as the primary form of maltreatment in another 12 percent of substantiated investigations. In a small proportion of investigations (three percent), sexual abuse (includes forms such as fondling, attempted penetration, and sex talk or images) was identified as the primary maltreatment form.
In 11% of investigations, more than one type of maltreatment was substantiated.
Physical harm was identified in five percent of cases of substantiated maltreatment. In four percent of substantiated investigations, physical harm was noted but no medical treatment was required. In a further one percent of substantiated investigations, harm was sufficiently severe to require treatment. Emotional harm was noted in 36 percent of all substantiated maltreatment investigations. In 21 percent of substantiated investigations, emotional harm was severe enough to require therapeutic treatment.
Indigenous children continue to be over-represented in substantiated cases of child maltreatment. While 4% of the Ontario child population was Indigenous in 2016, 10% of the victims of substantiated child maltreatment in OIS-2018 were of Indigenous heritage. The OIS-2018 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.
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.
Barbara Fallon at email@example.com
Barbara Fallon and the OIS-2018 Research Team are committed to knowledge mobilization and research capacity-building in Ontario child welfare agencies. If you work at a child welfare agency in Ontario and are interested in authoring an OIS-2018 information sheet, or for more information related to the OIS-2018, please contact Barbara Fallon (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Rachael Lefebvre (email@example.com).