Economic costs of child abuse in Canada tops $15 billion

The economic costs of child abuse in Canada top $15 billion, according to a new study at The University of Western Ontario.

“Our goal with this research is to contribute to the reduction of child abuse in Canadian society, by increasing the awareness of how the costs and consequences of child abuse affect all Canadians,” says Katherine McKenna, professor in Western’s Centre for Women's Studies and Feminist Research.

Audra Bowlus, one of the study’s co-authors and professor in Western’s Department of Economics, says, “Our findings indicate a well-planned investment of substantial public funds in early detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse would not only significantly benefit child abuse victims, but is also sound fiscal policy that would benefit us all.”

Tanis Day, an independent consultant who also co-authored the report says, “An interesting aspect of economic costing is that it often provides a middle ground on which both fiscal conservatives and anti-violence activists can meet. Both can agree that something that affects society so negatively and to such an extent must be prevented.”

The researchers included physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, neglect and witnessing violent behaviour in their definition of abuse. Total costs (from 1998) are broken down as follows:

  • Judicial costs - $616,685,247 (policing, court trials, Legal Aid, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and penal costs including incarceration, parole and statutory release)
  • Social Services costs - $1,178,062,222 (publicly and privately funded)
  • Education costs - $23,882,994 (demand for special education services as a consequence of behavioural and learning problems in child abuse victims)
  • Health costs - $222,570,517 (immediate effects of abuse, persistent medical costs and long-term medical costs experienced by adult survivors of child abuse)
  • Employment costs - $11,299,601,383 (lost income)
  • Personal costs - $2,365,107,683 (transportation, relocation, costs associated with legal proceedings, drugs, therapies, alcohol, self-defence systems and goods and services purchased as a result of the abuse)

“The total cost of $15.7 billion is a conservative estimate and, therefore, reflects a minimum cost to society,” says Bowlus. “Some areas are drastically underestimated and others are not included at all due to the lack of available data. There is a great need for better collection of data on child abuse and new surveys to measure its incidence and prevalence. Even this conservative estimate, however, shows the great cost to Canadians.”

“Most of the costs are borne by the individual in lost income and other out of pocket personal costs,” says McKenna, “yet the annual costs to society in general, especially in terms of lost Gross National Product, are significant. The investment by governments at all levels in social services directed at this serious social problem represents only a small fraction of the billions of dollars lost each year.”

In addition to Bowlus, McKenna and Day, David Wright of the Program for Traumatic Stress Recovery at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Ontario collaborated on the project. The project was funded by a grant from the Law Commission of Canada.

Results were compiled using the economic costs of violence model developed by Day. Major data sources included provincial and federal budgets, the Incidence-Based Uniform Crime Survey, the Canadian Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect and the 1990 Ontario Health Survey Mental Health Supplement.

The study is available at http://www.lcc.gc.ca/en/themes/mr/ica/mckenna/mckenna_toc.asp

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