Would You Report Child Neglect If There Was A Chance of Being Sued?

imagesDaycare owner Tammy Larabies suspected that one of her students was being neglected at home. To address the issue she took the matter to Children’s Aid Society. She was then presented with a $10,000 lawsuit from the parents for “emotional distress”. The parents of the child successfully won the $10,000 lawsuit and were awarded costs. This decision may become a precedent case.

The small claims judge found that Tammy did not have “reasonable grounds” to suspect neglect. The judge found that Tammy had overreacted and should have had evidence before calling the Children’s Aid Society. Consequently, Tammy is no longer employed at the daycare, in addition to a $10,000 lawsuit and having to award the parents costs for the action.

Conversely, the CAS found there to be enough evidence to warrant an investigation. Tammy was fearful that the child was malnourished as a result of his parents following a restrictive diet. The child would sleep up to six hours a day under her supervision which led her to believe he was “failing to thrive”. Tammy was alarmed about the child’s condition after learning about a different child dying in his home due to malnourishment.

Contrary to the judge, Mary Ballantyne of the Ontario Association of children’s Aid Societies explained that: “The Child and Family Services Act…is very clear that people in the community have a specific responsibility to report concerns that they have about a child”.

So who is right?

This particular case is rather tough to assess. Although Tammy had no malice or negative intentions, she could’ve collected more evidence before taking action. I also understand that sometimes waiting too long can be detrimental to the child’s health; I assume Tammy was just looking out for the best interest of the child by taking quick action.  However, legally, the judge is correct that a false claim can be extremely distressing for parents.

Alternative scenarios:

Perhaps the parents could’ve handled the matter differently, in a less harsh manner as they knew that the daycare owner had their child’s best interest at heart. After all, that’s the type of person you would want taking care of your child. Alternatively, perhaps the CAS could’ve handled the matter in a method that was “less distressing” for the parents.

My Concerns:

If this case becomes a precedent case, it may deter daycare owners from reporting possible cases of neglect. I believe that daycare owners shouldn’t have to worry about a lawsuit for reporting a case of neglect. If daycare owners are not reporting possible cases of abuse, then it is turning a blind eye to the needs of the child and the responsibility of adults to protect the vulnerable individuals in our society. I believe it is important as parents to empower the people that are taking care of our children rather than persecute them and frighten them. If the matter is assessed in terms of legal terms, the judge is often tied down to letter of the law.

Conversely, I do stand by the point of avoiding fraudulent claims of abuse and frivolous cases.  I understand the emotional distress parents endure when the possibility of losing their child becomes a reality. However, if the evidence is substantial enough for the CAS to initiate an investigation, then one would assume there was a reasonable concern to take action. I also understand the parents would have concern about being labelled as bad parents, their image in society and be offended for being accused of being negligent parents. These sentiments are not to be ignored or undervalued.

How would you proceed if you were the parents of the child? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

*Reminder* Small claims court is within the scope of paralegal practice. If you would like to make a claim for a matter that is $25,000 or less, a licensed paralegal can represent you.

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