In what may be a legal precedent, a home daycare owner in Pickering has been successfully sued for reporting a case of suspected neglect to Toronto Children’s Aid Society (CAS).
Tammy Larabie was ordered to pay $10,000 plus court costs to the family of a toddler she feared was being neglected.
In a ruling the CAS calls “very concerning,” a small claims judge awarded the damages to the toddler’s parents for emotional distress.
The judge didn’t believe Larabie had “reasonable grounds” to suspect neglect — even though the CAS was concerned enough that they launched an investigation.
“I was just trying to do the right thing, to protect the child. I’m in shock, in shock,” Larabie said. “People shouldn’t have to question their suspicion or their gut feeling, for fear of being sued.”
The little boy, who can’t be named, was in Larabie’s care from the ages of 10-14 months.
She says the family insisted on a restrictive diet, and that the toddler would sleep for up to six hours a day.
“I believed that he was malnourished,” she said. “That he was having failure to thrive.”
After seeing a news report about a child that died while in home daycare, Tammy decided to call CAS.
She now fears others will hesitate to contact authorities.
“People are going to have to second guess themselves and make sure they have proof.”
Deputy Judge Lewis Richardson ruled that her call to CAS was panicked and an overreaction, that the boy was actually in good health and that there was “no basis whatsoever to call the CAS.”
The Child and Family Services Act has clear guidelines for reporting suspected abuse.
The government brochure states that the “public, including professionals who work with children, must promptly report any suspicions that a child is, or may be in need of protection, to a children’s aid society.”
It is also says it is “not necessary for you to be certain a child is or may be in need of protection to make a report to CAS and says people will be protected (legally) for making a report, unless they act maliciously or without reasonable grounds.
In 2013, 171,000 reports of possible abuse were made to children’s aid societies in Ontario — leading to 81,000 investigations.
“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,” says Mary Ballantyne, Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.
“Certainly we would not want anything out there that would have people not taking seriously their responsibility to children but also their responsibility under the legislation to make those reports.”
Tammy Larabie has been unable to work at her daycare since the ruling, and has been hit with massive court fees. A special fund has been set up to help here. Find out more here