King, B., Fallon, B., Boyd, R., Black, T., Antwi-Boasiako, K., & O’Connor, C. (2017). Factors associated with racial differences in child welfare investigative decision-making in Ontario, Canada. Child Abuse & Neglect73, 89–105. 

Well documented research in the United States shows that children and families of certain racial minority backgrounds are disproportionately and disparately referred, substantiated, removed, and in out-of-home care longer than more privileged races. Although there has been numerous studies conducted in the United States about this discrepancy, the findings cannot be generalizable to social services in Canada. Therefore, this study explores whether the disproportionate and disparate rates of Black children and families involved with the child welfare system can be extended to Ontario, Canada. 


  •  Data analyzed from the Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect. Open cases of maltreatment between October 1st and December 31st of 2013 were eligible for inclusion. 
  • A cluster sampling design was used to select a representative sample of 17 child welfare agencies out of the 46 in Ontario.  
  • Census data from 2011 National Household Survey, more specifically the Visible Minority table, was utilized to generate population-based estimates of the rate of racial child involvement.  
  • A total of 3546 children, unweighted, under the age of 14 who stated they are Black (n=407) or White (n=3139) was considered. The fully weighted total sample included 83, 400 children involving 10,381 Black children and 73, 019 White children. 
  • Multiple factors were analyzed – child characteristics, maltreatment-related characteristics, caregiver risk factors, socioeconomic risk factors, and allegation/referral source.  
  • Black and White disparities in investigations and at each decision-making point (e.g. substantiation, removal from family home, transfer to ongoing services) were examined to see whether there were racial differences in decision-making based on maltreatment.  
  • descriptive bivariate analysis was used to understand the characteristics associated with investigations and transfers to ongoing services for Black and White children and their families.  

Discussion and findings  

  • Racial disparities in investigations for maltreatment-related concerns are in Ontario as Black children are more likely to be investigated than White children 
  • Statistically significant racial differences at each stage of the investigation process, but the magnitude of the differences were relatively modest; consistent with research from Children’s Aid Society of Toronto 
  • Schools were more likely to report physical abuse involving Black children, but workers were less likely to determine the need for continued support and supervision  
  • Workers responded to different circumstances when investigating Black and White children. Black children who were transferred to on-going services were found to be older (8-14). 
  • White children were more likely to be struggling with a number of functioning issues. Primary caregivers of White children were more likely to struggle with substance abuse, mental health, or few social supports 
  • Attachment issues were the most significant contributor to the decision to provide continued services for Black children 


  • The population of Black children and families differ considerably by region in Ontario.  
  • The application of full weights in the descriptive and logistic regression analyses may have overstated the estimate’s significance.  
  • Researchers were unable to independently verify the demographic characteristics determined by the primary worker who conducted the investigation.  
  • Other key factors may not have been known to the investigating worker at the time of data collection (e.g. child functioning issues, caregiver functioning problems).  
  • The study also cannot account for cases that were not reported or were screened out by child welfare authorities or investigated only by police. 


  • first study to explain where and how racial disparities found within the child welfare system in Ontario emerge, and whether they persist throughout the investigation.  
  • supports the recommendations of allocating and dedicating resources and highlights the need to engage and educate mandated referrers, which encourage the integration of anti-poverty work into their practice.  
  • Targeted feedback, discussion, and training are encouraged for teachers and other mandated referrers to help them contextualize Black families’ experiences, the impact of poverty, and ensure that bias is not affecting their decisions.   
  • documents the association between parent-child relationships and socioeconomic statuses and suggests that other financial, social, and mental health supports are options for caregivers through partnerships with African Canadian community organizations.