Ontario Child Welfare Research Framework

Designed by the OACAS Research Evaluation Advisory Committee, the Ontario Child Welfare Research Framework responds to the child welfare sector’s desire to have greater influence over research questions that are explored along the service continuum, better coordinate the management of external researchers’ requests, leverage the use of provincial databases, and foster mobilization of research knowledge across the field.

Advancing practices, Improving processes, Leveraging resources

Researchers are encouraged to align their research with the current five provincial priorities of the child welfare field.

The five provincial priorities are:


  • Restoration of jurisdiction of Aboriginal child welfare services back to Aboriginal communities and agencies
  • The need for appropriate funding models that address and account for the costs of working in and serving remote populations
  • Recognition of the greater ‘weight’ of Aboriginal child welfare files
    • Resources and effort required to meet client needs while complying with legal requirements
    • Need for and funding of models that are culturally specific and effective, including customary care and unique approaches to crisis intervention
  • Capacity building for Aboriginal agencies and investment in community infrastructure

Funding & Funding Model

  • How increasing child welfare volumes (increasing service demand) may be addressed over time


  • Raising the age of child protection to age 18
  • Allowing youth in care to stay in their foster homes longer to allow for continued support
  • Extending the age of eligibility for financial and other ongoing supports from the age of 21 to 24
  • Support for mentors known to youth in care

Early Protection: keeping children safe and supporting families

  • Delivering child protection services when the risk of child abuse or neglect is first known in order to assist families in managing problems before they become entrenched and harm occurs
  • Admission prevention services
  • Ensuring that CASs are supported in preventing the circumstances that lead to high risks for children

Permanency & Adoption

  • Availability of resources to enable families to adopt children with exceptional needs
  • Accessible post-adoption support services

Ontario Looking after Children Dataset (OnLAC)
Children in-care for at least one year in the province of Ontario
Principal Investigator: Dr. Robert Flynn, University of Ottawa OACAS

  • Survey data
  • Longitudinal
  • 10 years
  • Sample size = approximately 7,000 for 2012

Ontario Incidence Study (OIS)
Family cases opened for investigation in Ontario
Principal Investigator: Dr. Barbara Fallon, University of Toronto

  • Survey data
  • Cross sectional
  • Sample size =7,471 for 2008

Canadian Incidence Study (CIS)
Family cases opened for investigation in Canada
Principal Investigator: Dr. Nico Trocme, McGill University

  • Survey data
  • Cross sectional
  • Sample size = 15,980 for 2008

Ontario Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (OCANDS)
Child-specific, event-level, longitudinal database that has the capacity to follow children and families from initial report straight through to termination of services for crown wards and those on Continued Care and Support for Youth.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Barbara Fallon, University of Toronto

  • Administrative data

Toronto teens involved with child welfare
Principal Investigator: Dr. Christine Wekerle, McMaster University

  • Self-reported survey data
  • Longitudinal
  • Sample size = 218

Canadian Census Data
Canada-wide demographic and population information
Statistics Canada

  • Survey data
  • Longitudinal
  • Sample size = 33 476 688 for 2011

Agencies are likely to engage in different forms of research depending on the issue. A brief summary of methodologies is provided below.

Characteristics of Basic and Applied Research

Basic Research Applied Research
Problem selection determined by: Individual researcher Employer or sponsor
Researcher intrinsically motivated by: Intellectual curiosity and satisfaction in advancing knowledge Commitment to promote the public welfare
The goal is: Generalized theoretical understanding Cost-effective reduction of social problems
Rigor of methods based on: Disciplinary norms of scholarship Uses to which results may be put
Preoccupied with: Internal validity External validity
Research arena tends to be the: Laboratory Real-world setting
Dissemination of knowledge by: Publication in learned, technical journals Communication with lay decision makers
Source: adapted from Fishman and Neigher (1982) and Freeman and Rossi (1984), as cited in Singleton, R.A & Straits, B.C. (2010). Approaches to Social Research (5th ed). New York: Oxford University Press.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative data is more generalizable to a larger population.  When data is able to generalize to the larger population, we are able to more confidently attribute any findings as true, real world affairs.

There are a variety of different quantitative research designs or strategies that can be used.  What distinguishes between different methodologies is the extent to which results can be generalized to the greater population.  Generalizability is increased by double blind random assignment of participants into groups, inclusion of a control group, sufficient sample size, standardized tools, and statistical significance.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research may be useful in helping to interpret quantitative findings, and may provide deeper understanding about how participants feel about a program, or what is being studied.  Qualitative research is also helpful when researchers have no existing theories or hypotheses and contextual information can be used to build new theories. Generally speaking, the objective of this type of research is to look for themes and patterns exclusive to the set of participants involved in the study.

Qualitative researchers ask broader questions and collect text data from participants.  Qualitative data is more detailed and “rich”, and often involves detailed verbal discussions. However, it is rather time consuming and is less generalizable to a larger population. Therefore, knowledge claims that can result from qualitative methodologies are generally restricted to the participants who participated in the research. Unlike studies that employ quantitative methodologies, qualitative methods speak more specifically to the unique experiences of individuals.

Mixed Methods

To benefit from the advantages of both quantitative and qualitative research, researchers have combined both of these methodologies.  Termed mixed methods approach, qualitative data is used to provide meaning to quantitative numbers.  For instance, a survey on client satisfaction may be complimented by focus groups.  This allows researchers to gain a more in-depth understanding of the meaning of a numerical response.  Since we are collecting data in multiple formats (e.g., numbers and words), if results converge, it increases our confidence that the results are valid.

Research Methodology Key Advantages Key Disadvantages Ability to Generalize
Meta Analysis Summarizes findings from multiple studies and arrive at an overview if an issue being evaluated or questioned. Derives an effect size of the interested conceptControls for variation between studiesCan examine the influence of other moderating variables A small sample of studies can result in non-significant findingsDoes not control for unsound studies that are included in the meta-analysis A+
Multi-site Replication Experiment or intervention is repeated at multiple sites. Able to triangulate results across multiple studies that may use different methodologiesProvides reliability that would not be present in a single-site study Does not provide an estimate of the magnitude of effect A
Randomized Control Studies (e.g., clinical trials with a control group) Compares the outcomes of two groups, who are randomly selected and assigned to either the experimental (or intervention) group, or the control group (no-treatment). Addresses concerns associated with sampling biasConsidered one of the most reliable forms for scientific evidence Costly and time consumingMay not capture unique contextual effectsMay be difficult to study rare eventsPossible ethical concerns A-
Quasi-experiments (e.g., large scale studies, experimental studies using convenient groups) Compares outcomes of two groups, such as children or youth in the treatment, and control group. However, the participants are not randomly assigned to their respective groups. May be more sensitive to contextual effectsFor ethical reasons, random assignment may not be possible (e.g. assigning children to services and withholding services for some)May make some studies more feasible May lack the rigour associated with a controlled setting in which data is collected (e.g. cannot eliminate the confounding effects of third variables, although this can be addressed statistically) B
Single-case experiments One subject is studied over time Designs are sensitive to individual differences (e.g. the individual serves as their own control)Highly flexibleSensitive to the context of the individual Effects of previous phase carry-over into the next phaseThe sequence of intervention can influence resultsDifficult to generalize results to the population B-
Descriptive Studies Research design used to look for relationships between variables. Provides some insight into how variables are related Does not speak to causal relationshipDoes not account for confounding factors B-

Click on the link below to view Ethical Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Child Welfare, prepared by Q-Net: Ontario Child Welfare Quality Network.

Ethical Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Child Welfare

Researchers are encouraged to reach out to the OACAS Research Evaluation Advisory Committee if any of the following scenarios apply:

  • You would like some assistance from child welfare professionals and researchers in refining your initial research to align it to the most pressing questions in child welfare practice
  • You have developed research ideas in the format of a proposal (reviewed by a research ethics board that adheres to the published guidelines of the Tri-Council Policy Statement if you are in academia) and require endorsement from the child welfare field, and access to Ontario’s children’s aid societies
  • You are interested in obtaining representation from children’s aid societies, to be on an advisory committee for a research project

Contact information:

Kevin Chin
kevin.chin@oacas.org or 647-925-3005

Conversations about research ideas at an early stage can be helpful in refining the focus of research questions and ensuring that studies answer the most pressing questions in child welfare practice. The OACAS Research Evaluation Advisory Committee can suggest potential research questions to researchers through its knowledge of key provincial performance indicator data, other data sets, and current realities and challenges in child welfare practice.

Researchers should submit their research proposal, ethics approval letter (if applicable) and a statement of how the findings will be disseminated back to the child welfare sector, and the anticipated workload on child welfare agencies. The Committee will review proposals and indicate the status of approval to researchers within 8 weeks of submission.

Submission Checklist:

  • Research Proposal
  • Tri-council ethics approval letter (if applicable)
  • Statement of dissemination