Whitby, Ont., resident Melissa Lopez says she was surprised when she brought her daughter Elianna to a new dentist last year and was told the 10-year-old had nine cavities.
The mother of three said she was told the child would require thousands of dollars in dental work. Because the family doesn't have dental insurance, they would have to pay for the work themselves, so Lopez decided to get a second opinion.
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Another dentist in the area told her Elianna had fewer cavities, so Lopez decided to get the fillings completed at that clinic and said she didn't notify the other dentist that she had made the switch.
In June, she received a call from the Children's Aid Society, saying the first dentist had reported her for possible "oral neglect" of her daughter.
"I couldn't believe it," Lopez told CBC Toronto in an interview this week.
Lopez wonders why a dentist would be allowed to report a parent without knowing all the facts, and why she now has a permanent case file with the CAS — even though she provided them with evidence of her daughter's dental work and was told the case was quickly closed.
Accusations of neglect 'absurd,' mom says
"As a mother, you pride yourself on how you raise your kids. I have three kids — they're healthy, they're happy, they do great in school, they have lots of friends," Lopez said.
"For someone to turn around and try to accuse me of neglecting her, it's absurd."
Lopez said that, while she didn't notify the first dentist or respond to the office's reminders about booking appointments, that shouldn't be a red flag given how frequently people switch dentists.
"There was no sort of letter stating they're concerned for her health ... We've switched dentists before and never notified the previous one," she said.
After providing proof to the CAS that her daughter is in good hands, she said the society dropped its request for an interview and closed the case.
But the file, Lopez claims she was told, is permanent.
"It will always be there, 10, 15, 20 years from now," she said. "I'm red-flagged, I've been marked, and there's no reason for this to have happened."
Health-care professionals 'required to report'
According to the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO), that first dentist was just doing his job.
Under the Child and Family Services Act, everyone in Ontario has a responsibility to report suspected child abuse and neglect, said Kevin Marsh, director of communications for the RCDSO.
"Health-care professionals and other people who work closely with children have a special responsibility under the act," he added.
They're actually required to report suspected neglect, Marsh explained, and can be fined if it's determined that they should have reported and chose not to.
The grounds for what constitutes suspected neglect are "wide open," however, meaning it's largely up to individual health care professionals to make the call.
"You don't have to have proof of abuse or neglect, just reasonable grounds," Marsh said.
Case files kept for 'accountability'
But if a parent like Lopez successfully proves there was no abuse, why does the case file remain?
Andrea Maenza, communications co-ordinator for the Durham Children's Aid Society, said that protocol is mandated by the Child and Family Services Act.
All CAS records must be kept for "accountability purposes," she explained.
Maenza stressed that there aren't necessarily negative implications from having a permanent case file, since all the information about the interaction is included, including why it was closed.
"An individual can ask for a copy of their record to know exactly what it says," she added.
Still, having a permanent record with Children's Aid is unsettling for Lopez, who sees herself as a loving mother.
"I would absolutely love it if they would just remove that file for me, because I don't feel there was any just reason to report me in the first place," she said.