Methods: Data from the provincially representative Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (OIS-2013) were used to: 1) categorize urgent protection vs. chronic needs investigations; 2) identify the characteristics of the protection concern, functioning issues, caregiver risk factors, and sociodemographic conditions; and 3) determine how these characteristics were associated with the decision to provide ongoing child welfare services for each group. Separate analyses were produced for each group (urgent vs. chronic), including logistic regression and chi-square automatic interaction detection (CHAID, a non-parametric classification tree) to determine characteristics and circumstances associated with transfer to ongoing services.
Results: Of the estimated 123,162 child protection investigations conducted in Ontario in 2013, approximately 11% involved urgent protection concerns and the other 89% involved chronic need. Twenty-five percent of investigations were transferred to ongoing services and there were no differences between urgent protection and chronic needs investigations. Among urgent investigations, the determination of future risk of harm was the most significant predictor, particularly when coupled with caregiver mental health concerns (when both were present, 86% were transferred). Similarly, among chronic needs investigations, the combination of future risk of harm and caregiver mental health issues was a significant and substantial factor. For both groups, economic hardship and housing problems factored into the decision, and among chronic needs investigations, social isolation and younger caregiver age were also contributors.
Conclusions and Implications: Child welfare responses are designed for intervening in situations in which children’s physical and emotional safety is directly threatened, and yet these circumstances define a significant minority of investigations in Ontario. Surprisingly, rates of transfer and circumstances associated with transfer were similar for urgent protection and chronic needs investigations. An assessment of risk of future maltreatment and circumstances associated with risk appear to drive workers’ decisions regardless of the nature of the allegation. Implications for investigative practice and policy will be discussed, especially as they relate to conceptualizations of risk.