Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)
According to the Canadian Incidence Studies of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) there was a 259% increase in the rate of investigated exposure to domestic violence, with substantiated cases going from 1.72 cases per 1,000 children in 1998 to 6.17 in 2003. This paper describes the characteristics of the children and families identified to the child welfare system because of domestic violence and examines the response of the child welfare system to these cases in comparison to the child welfare response to other forms of maltreatment.
The CIS-2003 tracked 14,200 child maltreatment investigations conducted in a representative sample of 63 Child Welfare Service Areas across Canada in the fall of 2003. Weighted national annual estimates were derived based on these investigations. Information was collected directly from the investigating workers using a standard set of definitions. Three categories of substantiated maltreatment were created in order to compare exposure to domestic violence to other forms of maltreatment: (1) investigations involving only exposure to domestic violence, (2) investigations involving exposure to domestic violence that co-occur with at least one other form of maltreatment, and (3) investigations involving other forms of maltreatment (e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional maltreatment ) that occur in single or multiple forms. A series of bivariate analyses were conducted in WesVar to determine the association between several factors and maltreatment type.
Cases remained open for ongoing services less often (36%) for substantiated investigations involving only exposure to domestic violence compared to 45% of substantiated investigations involving other forms of maltreatment, and 67% of cases involving co-occurring exposure to domestic violence. Children were placed in out-of-home care in only 2% of investigations involving exposure to domestic violence compared to 10% for cases of co-occurring exposure to domestic violence, and 10% for cases of other forms of maltreatment.
The service response of the child welfare system for children who are the subject of an investigation involving both substantiated exposure to domestic violence and another form of substantiated maltreatment involves more resources. Investigations involving co-occurring exposure to domestic violence are more likely to have an application to child welfare court, more likely to be provided with ongoing services and have a placement rate as high as investigations involving other forms of maltreatment.
Implications for Practice and Policy
For the first time in Canada, the CIS-2003 documented the characteristics of children and families exposed to domestic violence, and comprehensive data about the service response. The child welfare system's response to exposure to domestic violence largely depends on whether it occurs in isolation or with another form of child maltreatment. This study supports recent findings from the United States and is contrary to popular belief about the intrusiveness of the child welfare system in cases of exposure to domestic violence. The child welfare system's response to cases involving exposure to domestic violence does not necessarily result in higher levels of intervention. Understanding the current response is the first step in formulating future responses.