Child Abuse Probes Skyrocket

By Jennifer O'Brien
London Free Press [London Ontario]
Downloaded March 19, 2004

The 88-per-cent hike in suspected cases is disburbing, police say. The number of suspected child abuse cases reported to London police has nearly doubled this year, an increase described by a senior officer as "disturbing."

Officials from the London and Middlesex Children's Aid Society have asked police to investigate 47 cases this year, an 88-per-cent hike from the 25 cases reported during the same time period last year.

"It is disturbing and it is disconcerting to see these numbers, especially given the nature of the crime being investigated -- violence against children," said Deputy Chief Tony McGowan, who announced the abuse statistics at yesterday's police services board meeting.

Though the trend may be disturbing, it was not surprising to CAS officials, said executive director John Liston.

"We are finding an increase in the number of cases relevant to physical abuse and an increase in child protection cases themselves," he said.

London and Middlesex CAS had 857 children in its care at the end of February, compared to 842 children in care at the end of February 2003, Liston said.

"There is more reporting, year after year," he said.

"In some jurisdictions in the province, people are seeing a plateau or lessening. We are not seeing it here in London."

Liston said public awareness, stirred by ongoing research and media attention, may have led to more investigations because it increases a public sense of responsibility for children.

The sharp spike in child abuse cases has created a temporary backlog in the police unit that investigates sexual assaults, McGowan said.

Six investigators work in the sexual assault/child abuse section.

Officers have only cleared about 68 per cent of cases assigned to their squad since January, he said.

Yesterday's news was in keeping with trends reported by a UWO study.

The study that looked at a 70-per-cent increase in the number of children in care at the Children's Aid Society of London and Middlesex between 1995 and 2001.

Researchers who were involved with that study said yesterday the police data shows people are more aware about child abuse and how to report it, but it also shows children are still victims of growing poverty.

"To see almost a doubling in the number of cases is amazing . . . It's huge," said psychologist Alan Leschied, one of the researchers in the University of Western Ontario study.

"What we already knew is that we have more children coming to (CAS) attention every year, but this is new data."

Study researchers have said at least two factors contributed to the increase.

Changes to provincial child-welfare laws in 2000 placed a greater burden of responsibility to report possible abuse on people such as physicians, the clergy or counsellors. There were also provisions to have neglect considered a reason for referral.

But whatever the reason, the study revealed seven of 10 children were in care because of abuse, whether it be neglect, physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Yesterday's information only cemented that finding, said Leschied.

"We know that child abuse and neglect are the issues that tend to drive the increase in numbers of children in care," he said, adding increases can be attributed to poverty, an increase in the number of single parents coping with challenging kids and adult mental illness.

"Stresses within families, social isolation and challenging economic times are some of the contributors to violence within families," said Leschied.

"It means we need more social services for children and more foster parents."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.