PA Dentist Threatens Parents
A dentist’s office in Pennsylvania has made headlines and sparked a social media firestorm of angry parents. Dr. Ross Wezmar of Smiles 4 Keeps came under fire for a letter citing Pennsylvania Act 31 and threatening to report parents for neglect if they failed to schedule their child’s next cleaning with the practice.
The letter, as posted at Health Impact News, reads in part, “Pennsylvania Act 31 (Child Abuse Reporting and Recognition Requirements) states that health care providers must report your failure to bring your child to the dentist for evaluation and care.” That’s not a provision we could find in the Act, however. (Read the Act for yourself here.)
Mom Trey Hoyumpa, rather than being intimidated by the threat, took the issue to social media. From there it went viral, attracting the attention of Health Impact News and of conservative journalist Michelle Malkin, who featured the matter on multiple sites including Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal and The Jewish World Review.
ParentalRights.org has shared before that to get good results in court, we need two complementary things: good laws and good judges. If we get bad results, the problem could be one or the other, or sometimes both.
In this case, the Act identifies “mandatory reporters”—those required by law to make a report if they have reason to suspect child abuse or neglect—and lists training requirements they must meet to be licensed in the state. But nowhere does it mention missing a dental cleaning as a cause to report a parent for neglect. (In fact, no definitions for “abuse” or “neglect” are included in Act 31.)
In this instance, the law seems fine; the problem is with its application by the dentist.
According to Malkin, Wezmar claims Smiles 4 Keeps sent the letter “to jar the parent to realize that with a child comes responsibility.” And if that “jarring” results in more money to the dentist’s office as intimidated parents bring their child in for fear of Child Protective Services, well, so much the better.
As pointed out by Health Impact News, Dr. Wezmar’s associations listed on the practice’s website include work with “Harvard University Children’s Hospital,” better known as Boston Children’s Hospital (the site of Justina Pelletier’s now infamous ordeal).
It’s no wonder Hoyumpa accused the dentist’s office of “bullying” and “intimidation.”
Utah Adopts a Better Way
That is exactly the kind of abuse of the system which a newly passed Utah bill seeks to address.
SB 65 made a substantive amendment to the legal definition of “neglect.” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as many as 80% of child welfare investigations arise from this nebulous charge. It’s the allegation raised by Smiles 4 Keeps, and too often it is defined in the field as “daring to parent in a way the doctor/dentist/investigator doesn’t like.”
But that is no longer to be the case in Utah.
Under SB 65, “neglect” explicitly “does not include…permitting a child…to engage in independent activities, including: traveling to and from school, including by walking, running, or bicycling…; engaging in outdoor play; remaining in a vehicle unattended [with exceptions]; remaining home unattended; or engaging in a similar independent activity” (section numbers and formatting omitted). So Utah parents who want to raise independent, responsible adults will no longer be hamstrung by a system that sees every risk as a call for a neglect proceeding.
The bill also excludes “a health care decision made for a child by the child’s parent or guardian, unless the state or other party to a proceeding shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that the health care decision is not reasonable and informed.” Under such a provision, Smiles 4 Keeps would be hard-pressed to threaten any good parent who chooses not to get their child’s teeth cleaned on time. Such a choice simply does not meet the legal definition of neglect.
What We Can Do
The Smiles 4 Keeps letter clearly demonstrates why changes like the Utah law are needed in all 50 states. We can make those changes either by passing state legislation like SB 65, or by amending federal laws like the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to close the loopholes so ripe for abuse. Ultimately, the Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will help raise the bar for parental rights nationwide.
And we are proud to be actively pursuing all of these solutions. In state legislatures, through a bipartisan coalition for ASFA and CAPTA reform, and with the Parental Rights Amendment in Congress, we are on the front lines to protect parents like Trey Hoyumpa from those who would define “neglect” to fit any parent they just don’t like.
But to continue our successes, we need our voice to grow.
Please take a moment to
- 1) share this newsletter with family and friends and urge them to sign up for updates as well and
- 2) contact your U.S. congressman and urge their support for H.J. Res. 121, the Parental Rights Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Randy Hultgren.
By standing together we can stop the bullying of good parents by taking the bullies’ weapons away.
Director of Communications & Research