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Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect Final Report

Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect - imagePrepared by:
Nico Trocmé
Bruce MacLaurin
Barbara Fallon
Joanne Daciuk
Diane Billingsley
Marc Tourigny
Micheline Mayer
John Wright
Ken Barter
Gale Burford
Joe Hornick
Richard Sullivan
Brad McKenzie

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(1,745 KB) in PDF Format

Table Of Contents

Executive Summary

  1. Introduction
    • Background
    • Objectives and Scope of the CIS
    • Child Welfare Services in Canada
    • Definitional Framework for the CIS
      • Categories and Forms of Maltreatment . . .
      • Level of Harm
      • Timeframe
      • Unit of Analysis
      • Case Duplication
      •  Level of Case Identification
    • Summary of CIS Definitional Framework
    • Organization of Report
  2. Methodology
    • Study Organization
      • Funding
      • National Consultation
      • Study Timeframe
      • Project Management Structure
    • Instruments
      • Maltreatment Assessment Form
      • Worker Information Form
      • Pilot Testing
    • Sampling
    • Case Selection and Processing
      • Data Verification and Data Entry
      • Participation and Item Completion Rates
      • Weighting
      • Duplication
    • Sampling Error Estimation
    • Data Presentation Format
  3. Incidence Of Abuse And Neglect
    • Definition of Classifications of Maltreatment
    • Definition of Levels of Substantiation
    • Calculation of Substantiation Rates in Cases Involving Several
    • Forms of Maltreatment
    • Total Child Investigations and Overall Rates of Substantiation
    • Total Family Investigations and Overall Rates of Substantiation
    • Categories of Maltreatment
    • Single and Multiple Categories of Maltreatment
    • Physical Abuse
    • Sexual Abuse
    • Neglect
    • Emotional Maltreatment
  4. Characteristics Of Maltreatment
    • Physical Harm
    • Nature of Physical Harm
    • Medical Treatment for Physical Harm
    • Emotional Harm
    • Duration of Maltreatment
    • Alleged Perpetrator
  5. Investigation Outcomes
    • Ongoing Child Welfare Services
    • Child and Family Referrals
    • Out-of-Home Placement
    • Child Welfare Court Involvement
    • Police Involvement and Criminal Charges
  6. Child Characteristics
    • Age and Sex of Investigated Children
    • Child Functioning
  7. Household Characteristics
    • Parents and Caregivers in the Home
    • Age of Primary Caregiver(s)
    • Number of Siblings in the Household
    • Number of Siblings Investigated
    • Source of Income
    • Housing
    • Aboriginal Heritage of Parents
    • Caregiver Functioning and Family Stressors
  8. Referral And Agency Characteristics
    • Source of Referral/Allegation
    • Malicious Referrals
    • Previous Case Openings
    • Agency/Office Size
    • Urban and Rural Service Area
    • Worker Position, Experience, and Education
  9. Conclusions And Future Directions
    • Summary of Major Findings
      • Incidence of Abuse and Neglect
      • Characteristics of Maltreatment
      • Outcomes of Investigations
      • Child Characteristics
      • Household Characteristics
      • Referral and Agency Characteristics
    • Comparative Analysis
      • Canadian Data on Investigated Maltreatment
      • International Data on Investigated Maltreatment
    • Further Research
  1. CIS Site Directors/Research Associates
  2. National Advisory Committee and Health Canada Staff
  3. Glossary of Terms
  4. Maltreatment Assessment Form
  5. CIS Study Guide Book
  6. Case Vignettes
  7. Worker Information Form
  8. Variance Estimates and Confidence Intervals
  9. Supporting Data for Additional Report Findings



The 1998 Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) reflects a truly national effort by a group of over 700 child welfare service providers, researchers and policy makers committed to improving services for abused and neglected children through research. Health Canada provided core funding for the study, with additional funds provided by the provinces of Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia and by the Bell Canada Child Welfare Research Unit. In addition to its financial contribution, Health Canada, through the Child Maltreatment Section (CMS) of the Bureau of Health Surveillance and Epidemiology, provided a critical organizational infrastructure for the study, with the active support of the CMD Chief, Gordon Phaneuf, Sharon Bartholomew, Lil Tonmyr, and the Director of the Bureau, Catherine McCourt. The National Advisory Committee to the CIS (see Appendix B) provided key input into the design of the study and in supporting implementation. I would particularly like to acknowledge the contributions of Sandra Scarth (Committee Chair), who has championed this project for many years, and of Harriet MacMillan and David Wolfe, who provided constructive feedback and support throughout the project.

The CIS was conducted by a large team of researchers who demonstrated an exceptional ability to keep focused on the objectives of this collective effort while bringing to bear their own expertise. In addition to the report authors, special acknowledgement should go to site-based researchers who played a critical role in presenting the study and generating support while maintaining high standards for case selection. These include Janet Douglas, Ralph Bodor, Avery Calhoun, Jairo Ortiz, Warren Helfrich, Julie Thompson, Joanne Boucher, Marie-Claude Larrivée, Sonia Hélie, Chantal Lavergne, Marie Jacob, Brian Kenny, Julia Foran, and Brenda Romans (see Appendix A for institutional affiliations) . In addition to the formal members of the research team particular thanks must go to Mike Boyle, McMaster University, who assisted with the design of the study, and Tim Daciuk, who provided many useful data processing tips.

The child welfare social workers and managers who participated in the study deserve special recognition for finding the time and the interest to participate in the study while juggling their ever-increasing child protection responsibilities. Although for reasons of confidentiality we cannot list their names, on behalf of the CIS Research Team I thank the child welfare professionals who participated in the CIS.

Nico Trocmé
CIS Principal Investigator
June 2000


This report is dedicated to the children and families who are served by Canadian child welfare workers. It is our sincere hope that the study contributes to improving their well-being.

In memory of Paul Steinhauer, a champion for Canada's children.



The Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) provides, for the first time, national estimates of child abuse and neglect reported to, and investigated by, child welfare services in Canada. These data will strengthen our understanding of the extent of child maltreatment in Canada while also guiding our policy, program, and research responses to the problem. In addition to examining the incidence rates of child maltreatment, the study explored the characteristics of the children, youth and families who were the subject of child welfare investigations for alleged child abuse and neglect. The CIS also examined selected key determinants of health to better understand their relationship to the incidence of child maltreatment.

In January 1995, the Child Welfare League of Canada, with financial support from Health Canada, conducted an expert consultation, which affirmed the feasibility of developing a study to generate national estimates of the extent of child abuse and neglect in Canada. The consultation also underscored the importance of securing the support of the provincial, territorial, and federal governments for this effort. In 1996, Health Canada conducted bilateral consultations with senior provincial/territorial child welfare officials, native child welfare leaders, and key informants from the academic, research and non-government communities. The results corroborated the consensus view from the expert consultation that there was strong support for an initiative that would strengthen the national knowledge base on the incidence and characteristics of child abuse and neglect.

After a national request for proposals competition, Health Canada, through the Child Maltreatment Section, awarded a 3-year contract to a consortium of researchers led by Nico Trocmé of the University of Toronto to develop the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect. Each of the provincial and territorial governments contributed materially to the realization of the study, most commonly by furnishing in-kind donations, which served to facilitate the participation of child welfare workers in the respective data collection sites. Four provinces (Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia) elected to provide additional resources to the study to allow for over-sampling in their jurisdictions.

To help ensure that the study was both relevant to those who provide help and support to children and youth, and methodologically rigorous, a multi-disciplinary National Advisory Committee was established to provide advice and counsel to the study. Expertise drawn from many disciplines was represented on the Committee, including child advocacy, child protection, native child welfare, children's mental health, public health, social work, and forensic medicine.

The Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect constitutes the foundation for a national surveillance system on child maltreatment. The data collection and analysis undertaken within the CIS complements existing Health Canada child-related surveillance systems, including those addressing child injury and perinatal health. The study's descriptive analysis will be supplemented by in-depth secondary analysis, which will be pursued collaboratively with the academic, professional, and governmental sectors. The potential contribution of the CIS to the advancement of our understanding of child maltreatment is best appreciated within the context of a core system of periodic data collection, analysis and interpretation, and communication of information for action. The CIS provides the baseline against which future cycles of the study can be compared, thus allowing for the generation of trend analysis and the identification of patterns in the incidence and reporting of child maltreatment. The population health approach reflected in the child health surveillance activities of Health Canada has helped to guide the design and implementation of the CIS. Similarly, the evidence base that the study has established will serve to enrich program and policy development work on children's issues while providing the knowledge and data to strengthen child advocacy efforts and direct future targeted research.

This report and the companion document Child Maltreatment in Canada: Selected Results from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, which was developed to make the results of the study easily accessible to a wide readership, provide descriptive data from the CIS data set. The study was based on child welfare workers' professional judgements about cases of reported child maltreatment that they had investigated. As such, it is truly the view from the "frontline " of child protection. The study only addressed cases that had been reported to child welfare services; therefore, unreported cases of alleged abuse and neglect are not included in the CIS. This constraint and other methodologic limitations of the study are carefully described in both reports.

The study used a tri-level substantiation format. Child welfare workers were asked to classify investigated cases of child abuse and neglect into one of three categories: unsubstantiated, suspected, or substantiated. By including both suspected and substantiated cases the study has furnished a wide range of child welfare case classifications. This will facilitate future research into the factors that affect case determination, case planning, duration of service, and related issues.

Many people have worked diligently to ensure the realization of this study. The more than 700 child welfare workers from across the country who have participated directly in the study, the child welfare administrators at the local level, and the provincial/territorial directors of child welfare have all helped to ensure its success. The national research team and research associates, who are listed in Appendix A, have all demonstrated an unflagging commitment to the study. The National Advisory Committee (see Appendix B for a list of members) , which is chaired by Sandra Scarth, Executive Director Emeritus of the Child Welfare League of Canada, has provided valuable direction and guidance. Gratitude is due as well to the Child Welfare League of Canada, which has been an ardent champion of the study.

The CIS demonstrates the value and importance of collaborative work within the child maltreatment prevention community. The model of partnerships formed across sectors, which draw different disciplines together with a common focus to improve efforts to prevent abuse, should inform future initiatives in this area.

Gordon Phaneuf
Child Maltreatment Section
Health Canada