In Ontario, Canada's largest province, the decision to screen in a case for an investigation has recently come under scrutiny. An incorrect decision may result in the misuse of resources, cause unnecessary stress to families who do not require an investigation and be perceived as a threat for already vulnerable families. Two papers examined the screening decision using administrative data to construct large entry cohorts with consistent results. Both found that the screening decision resulted in high sensitivity but poor specificity. The analyses also identified the types of cases that are more likely to result in a false positive finding (inappropriate discipline and a caregiver with several risk factors identified). These data were used to inform in-depth discussions with front-line workers about decision-making thresholds in two agency-wide initiatives. Ongoing analysis and increased awareness of the screening decision at these organizations has shown improved specificity.
Trocme et al (2014) have identified a taxonomy that divides child welfare cases into those requiring urgent protection versus those with chronic needs in order to assist with the development of a more tailored service response across the service continuum. In Ontario, the mandate of child protections services includes families where there has been no specific allegation of maltreatment but rather the focus is on the assessment of risk factors that are likely result in future maltreatment. Using provincially representative cross-sectional data from 2013, this paper examined the predictors of transfers to ongoing services for both urgent and chronic investigations. An investigating worker's concern about the future maltreatment of children explained a significant proportion of the variance for the decision to transfer to ongoing services regardless of the allegation that was investigated. The low threshold for risk evident in the screening decision was also present in the findings of this paper.
Finally, using an entry cohort constructed from administrative data, families and children were tracked for two years in order to better understand the investigation, transfer to ongoing services and placement decision. Decisions about more intensive involvement with families were largely based on safety and risk assessments, which may be measuring the very same constructs that bring a family to the attention of child welfare in Ontario. Together these papers examine the efficacy of the child welfare service response which should identify situations that require further intervention and ameliorate the effects of child abuse and neglect.