Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect

Child Maltreatment in Canada - image

Selected Results

Authored by:
Nico Trocmé, Ph.D.
David Wolfe, Ph.D.


Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect
Selected Results

(879 KB) in PDF Format PDF

Table of Contents

  1. Study Overview And Methods
    • Background and Objectives
    • Purpose of this Report
    • Definitional Framework for the CIS
    • Methods
    • Scope and Limitations
  2. Child Maltreatment In Canada: Incidence And Characteristics
    • Total Child Investigations and Overall Rates of Substantiation
    • Categories of Maltreatment
    • Characteristics of Substantiated Maltreatment
    • Summary
  3. Child And Family Characteristics
    • Child Characteristics
    • Family Characteristics
    • Summary
  4. Community Responses To Child Maltreatment
    • Source of Referral/Allegation
    • Outcomes of Investigations
    • Summary


  • Appendix A: CIS Site Directors/Research Associates
  • Appendix B: National Advisory Committee and Health Canada Staff


At the present time there is no source of comprehensive, reliable national statistics on the nature and extent of child abuse and neglect across Canada. Without this information it has been difficult for policy makers and program developers to know whether the interventions and services currently provided to children and families prevent further abuse and reduce the burden of suffering on those affected.Efforts have been made to address this lack of information. Between 1987 and 1993 a federal/ provincial/territorial working group developed a compendium of descriptive information on provincial and territorial child and family services.This working group provided useful general information, but could not give a national picture of the scope and characteristics of child abuse and neglect because of the different ways data are collected across provinces and territories.The Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) is the first Canada-wide effort to begin to fill the gap using a common set of definitions.

It is exciting to have been a part of the development of the CIS since its beginning.So much has happened since 1995, when the Family Violence Prevention Division of Health Canada funded the Child Welfare League of Canada to convene an expert panel and conduct a feasibility study for a Canadian incidence study of reported child maltreatment.A group of researchers, child welfare directors and other professionals was consulted, and this group strongly recommended that a study be undertaken with a focus on child maltreatment cases reported to child welfare agencies.Health Canada reviewed the feasibility report and provided the funding to initiate the study. A National Advisory Committee was formed to provide guidance and advice as the study unfolded.As well, the Committee heard from youth participants, who provided their perspective on abuse.

The CIS has attracted strong interest and support in every province and territory.It also demonstrates a unique and quite wonderful collaboration of researchers, universities, child welfare practitioners and federal/ provincial/territorial governments. Hundreds of people participated. The results will give us a better understanding of the characteristics of children and the environments of their families that may lead to heightened risk of harm.We will also have more information about community responses to child maltreatment for use in raising awareness of the need for greater prevention efforts and more targeted interventions.

I am grateful to all who participated to make this study a reality.In particular, I would like to thank Dr.Catherine McCourt of the Bureau of Reproductive and Child Health for providing the leadership, Dr.Nico Trocmé and the researchers for their perseverance and dedication to scientific excellence, Gordon Phaneuf and the staff of the Child Maltreatment Division for championing the study and managing the initiative, and the members of the National Advisory Committee, who volunteered many hours of work in spite of very busy personal schedules. Last, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the youth participants who remind us of why we are collecting these data in the first place - to help us find ways to protect children and prevent maltreatment.

Sandra Scarth
National Advisory Committee to the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect

"Inform people of what an overall idea of abuse is. Inform people of how they can get help. Um, to discipline your child you don't need to hit your child. I think that's something that needs to be known and that's something that needs to be put to use,because there's other ways."

Participant in a youth focus group discussing prevention strategies.1



The Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) is the first national study of the incidence of child abuse and neglect reported to, and investigated by, child welfare services in Canada.This report, Child Maltreatment in Canada: Selected Results from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, contains a descriptive analysis of the findings of the study, with a focus on a subset of the CIS data set - those investigations in which the child maltreatment was substantiated. The full data set, including information about child welfare investigations in which maltreatment was either suspected or unsubstantiated, is described in detail in a companion report, Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report.2

Since the mid-1980s there have been calls for better information on the burden of child abuse in Canada. Badgley3 and Rix Rogers,4 among others, have made recommendations in this regard. Both Badgley and Rogers recognized that accurate, reliable data on the occurrence of maltreatment were integral to developing the knowledge base for prevention and intervention strategies. The Stockholm World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children5 called on all of the world's nations to improve the information they gather on this aspect of child sexual abuse.

In 1996, the Bureau of Reproductive and Child Health in the former Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, Health Canada, established the Child Maltreatment Division, to build national capacity in surveillance and epidemiology of child abuse and neglect. This was seen by the Department to be an important initiative that would fill an existing gap, and would complement the Bureau programs on unintentional injury and perinatal health. As a first undertaking, the Child Maltreatment Division proposed to implement a periodic national study of reported child abuse and neglect, building on a 1995 feasibility study conducted for the Family Violence Prevention Division in Health Canada.6 Departmental consultations with senior provincial/territorial officials, representatives from other federal departments and agencies, native child welfare leaders and representatives of the non-government sector confirmed widespread support for such a national study.

In 1997, a consortium of researchers, led by Dr.Nico Trocmé, Director of the Bell Canada Child Welfare Research Unit at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Social Work, was contracted by Health Canada to conduct the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) (see Appendix A, CIS Site Directors/Research Associates) . Four provinces (British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec7 and Newfoundland) provided additional funds to expand data collection in their jurisdictions. The Child Maltreatment Division established a multidisciplinary National Advisory Committee for the study, with expertise drawn from many fields, including public health, child advocacy, child welfare including native child welfare, children's mental health, social work and forensic medicine. The National Advisory Committee created four task groups (site recruitment/enrolment, instrument/definitions, sampling and youth involvement) to provide input into specific aspects of the study (see Appendix B for a list of the National Advisory Committee members) .

The CIS as a Component of Child Health Surveillance
Health surveillance is a system of ongoing data collection, analysis and reporting. Figure 1 illustrates the cycle of surveillance, adapted from a conceptual framework described by Dr. Brian McCarthy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia.8 Health surveillance provides information on trends, patterns and disparities in health outcomes and health determinants (both risk and protective factors) .

Figure 1
National Child HealthSurveillance

National Child Health Surveillance - Canada map

Adapted from CDC

National child health surveillance provides information necessary for effective priority-setting and policy and program development, implementation and evaluation. It alerts us to new or emerging threats to the health of Canadian children and enables us to monitor progress in combatting known threats. Child health surveillance at the national level also enables us to participate in international efforts to monitor child health, to better understand disparities in health outcomes within Canada and globally, and to identify solutions. Surveillance also helps to identify child health research priorities and assists in the evaluation of the uptake of research evidence.

The CIS is the foundation for a child maltreatment surveillance program as part of comprehensive national child health surveillance. The CIS will be repeated at regular intervals so that secular trends can be analyzed and policy and program interventions evaluated. This study will be complemented by other maltreatment surveillance activities, such as surveillance of fatal child abuse.

The CIS study design reflects the concept of determinants of health: that health status is influenced by many factors including physical and social environments, behaviours and clinical services.9 This approach to surveillance of child abuse and neglect is further elaborated in A Conceptual and Epidemiological Framework for Child Maltreatment Surveillance.10

We anticipate that this report will be of interest and use to a wide range of people concerned with children's issues, including health and social policy makers, health, social service, justice and law enforcement professionals, those who advocate on behalf of children, the non-government and research communities, and all citizens concerned about child abuse and neglect.

This document and the companion Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report present descriptive statistics from the CIS data set. The CIS methods, and therefore the data, have limitations that are clearly laid out in both reports. The CIS data set will provide opportunities for further analysis to better understand the scope and characteristics, as well as the risk and protective factors, associated with investigated child maltreatment. Suggested priorities for further analysis are outlined by Dr.Trocmé and colleagues in the CIS Final Report.

The CIS demonstrates the importance and value of collaborative work across disciplines and sectors. On behalf of Health Canada, we wish to acknowledge the contributions of the research team, the National Advisory Committee, the provincial and territorial directors of child welfare and their child welfare administrators, and the hundreds of child welfare workers from across the country who provided data for the study. Thank you.

Gordon Phaneuf
Sharon Bartholomew
Lil Tonmyr
Kathleen Moss
Catherine McCourt

Child Maltreatment Section and Bureau of Health Surveillance and Epidemiology
Centre for Healthy Human Development
Public Health Agency of Canada
Health Canada

  1. Charles G.Youth focus group on child abuse and neglect. Ottawa: Health Canada, unpublished report.

  2. Trocmé N, MacLaurin B, et al.Canadian incidence study of reported child abuse and neglect: final report.Ottawa, Ontario:Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2001.

  3. Badgley R. Report of the committee on sexual offences against children and youths .Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1984.

  4. Special Advisor to the Minister on Child Sexual Abuse. Reaching for solutions:the report of the special advisor to the Minister of National Health and Welfare on child sexual abuse in Canada.Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1990.

  5. Muntarbhorn V. The report of the Rapporteur-General. Stockholm: World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Stockholm: World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, 1996.

  6. Trocmé N, Michalski J, et al. Canadian incidence study of reported child maltreatment: methodology and feasibility review. Toronto: University of Toronto, Centre for Applied Social Research, Faculty of Social Work, 1995.

  7. In Quebec, the CIS was harmonized with the parallel Étude sur l'incidence et les caractéristiques des situations d'abus, de négligence, d'abandon et de troubles de comportement sérieux signalées à la Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ) au Québec (EIQ) .For more details refer to CIS Final Report.

  8. McCarthy B. The risk approach revisited: a critical review of developing country experience and its use in health planning.In :Liljestrand J, Povey WG (eds). Maternal health care in an international perspective. Proceedings of the XXII Berzelius Symposium, 1991 May 27-29, Stockholm, Sweden. Sweden: Uppsala University, 1992:107-24.

  9. Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health. Strategies for population health: investing in the health of Canadians. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1994.

  10. Health Canada. A conceptual and epidemiological framework for child maltreatment surveillance. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, in press

Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect

Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect - photo of PDF version

Child Maltreatment
Division of Health Surveillance and Epidemiology
Health Canada

(1,227 KB) in PDF format

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