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The Economic Costs and Consequences of Child Abuse in Canada

The Economic Costs and Consequences of Child Abuse in Canada

By: Audra Bowlus, Katherine McKenna, Tanis Day and David Wright; Report to the Law Commission of Canada; March 2003

Child abuse is a serious social problem which can take many forms. We include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, neglect and witnessing violent behaviour in our definition of abuse. The literature shows that there are many consequences of abuse, both short and long-term. The immediate physical consequences of abuse include soft tissue damage, cuts and bruises, fractures of the skull and other bones, central nervous system damage, brain damage, language impairment as well as perceptual-motor problems. This can lead to lower scores on general intellectual functioning, academic achievement, aggressive behaviour, psychological problems, hopelessness, depression and low self-worth. Longer-term effects include violent behaviour, including abuse of one’s own children, increased rates of aggressive behaviour, including non-violent acts, higher rates of substance abuse, greater likelihood of criminal behaviour and significantly more emotional problems including anxiety depression, dissociation and psychosis. The consequences of childhood abuse are not only devastating for the individual but also for society as a whole. These effects may also be experienced by an entire group of people and contribute to creating a legacy of abuse for particular societal groups.

The Day model of the economic costs of violence consists of measuring costs in six major areas: Judicial, Social Services, Education, Health, Employment and Personal costs.  The costs range from those assumed by the government to those assumed by the individual. In each category there are many possible costs and our calculations depend on the availability of data. Included in the area of Judicial costs are policing, court trials, Legal Aid, the Criminal

Injuries Compensation Board and penal costs including incarceration, parole and statutory release. These costs associated with the justice system are entirely funded by the public sector. Social Services, both publicly and privately funded, are included. The cost of the former is based on information provided by provincial budgets. Education costs focus on the demand for special education services as a consequence of behavioural and learning problems in child abuse victims. Employment costs are calculated mainly from the OHSUP in the area of lost income. Health costs are measured by looking at immediate effects of abuse, persistent medical costs and long-term medical costs experienced by adult survivors of child abuse. The CIS provides some information on the immediate costs of abuse and the OSHUP data give details about long-term health costs. Personal costs include transportation, relocation, costs associated with legal proceedings, drugs, therapies, alcohol, self-defence systems and goods and services purchased as a result of the abuse. We drew on data from a survey of residents in the Program for Traumatic Stress Recovery at Homewood Health Centre to calculate a conservative estimate of the annual personal costs to victims.

Our calculations for the total costs of child abuse for Canadian Society were as follows:

              Judicial                                  $ 616,685,247

              Social Services                  $ 1,178,062,222

              Education                             $ 23,882,994

              Health                                     $ 222,570,517

              Employment                     $11,299,601,383

              Personal                                $ 2,365,107,683

              Total                                       $15,705,910,047

This total reflects a minimum cost to society. Some areas of cost 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 Canadian society from child abuse. Most of the costs are borne by the individual in lost income and other out of pocket personal costs, yet the annual costs to society in general, especially in terms of lost Gross National Product, are significant. The investment of Canadian government at all levels in social service directed at this serious social problem represents only a small fraction of the billions of dollars lost each year. A well-planned and thoughtful investment of significant public funds in early detection, prevention and treatment of all forms of child abuse is not only a moral necessity for Canadian society; it is also sound fiscal policy that would directly benefit us all.

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