Awhile ago I wrote a blog regarding the push to place severely overweight children in foster care if their parents were either unwilling or unable to get their child’s weight under control. Well, the precedent has been set; according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer an 8-year old boy from Cleveland Heights was removed from his home and placed in foster care last month after case workers claimed that his mother wasn’t doing what she should be to control his obesity.
This third-grade boy first came to the attention of county workers in early 2010, when his mother took him to the hospital because he was having breathing problems. He was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a condition which can be related to weight, and he was given the breathing machine. At this time, social workers began to keep an eye on him under what the county calls protective supervision.
And for awhile, there was an improvement; the boy did lose weight, but recently he began rapidly gaining it back. The boy’s mother stated that other children and a sibling might be giving him extra food, but she said she tried to stop this and explained to him that he could only eat certain foods. She said she was also trying to follow doctors’ recommendations by getting him a bicycle and encouraging him to get exercise.
Yet, in spite of her efforts, her son weighs over 200 pounds and is considered at risk for developing diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Even though Cuyahoga County doesn’t have a specific policy for dealing with obese children, it removed the boy from his home. According to Mary Louise Madigan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services, medical neglect prompted his removal.
Madigan stated, “This child’s problem was so severe that we had to take custody.” She claimed that the boy’s weight gain was caused by his environment, and stated that the mother was not following the orders she had received from his doctor, a claim which the mother denies.
The mother’s lawyers feel the county has overreached in this case when they argued that medical conditions that the boy is at risk of developing, but doesn’t have at this time, can be classified as imminent danger to his health. Further, they question whether Children and Family Services considered the emotional impact this boy would suffer by being taken from his family, friends, and school.
Juvenile Public Defender Sam Amata said, “I think we would concede that some intervention is appropriate. But what risk became imminent? When did it become an immediate problem?”
Amata argued the fairness of this decision, when he has watched children being left in homes with parents who have severe drug problems or who have beaten their children, and yet Children and Family Services has determined that the child is not in immediate danger. He further cited the fact that the boy was an honor roll student who participated in school activities. Additionally, his medical records reveal that the only medical problem the boy currently has is sleep apnea, a condition which is being treated.
The boy’s mother told the Plain Dealer, “They are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don’t love my child. Of course I love him. Of course I want him to lose weight. It’s a lifestyle change, and they are trying to make it seem like I am not embracing that. It is very hard, but I am trying.”
She said that her son was taken from his school on October 19 by social workers and placed in a foster home. She is only allowed to see him once a week for two hours. A trial to determine what is in the boy’s best interests will take place next month, on the boy’s 9th birthday.
This national debate regarding the legality of stepping in when parents fail to deal with their child’s weight problems was spurred earlier this year by Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard University professor and expert in pediatric obesity, who stated, “In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint, because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems.”
But there are others, like Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, who says that before taking this approach, broader public-policy issues need to be explored.
“A 218-pound 8-year-old is a time bomb,” he acknowledged. “But the government cannot raise these children. A third of kids are fat. We aren’t going to move them all to foster care. We can’t afford it, and I’m not sure there are enough foster parents to do it. ”
Additionally, he brings up legitimate concerns that families with the least resources, which are quite often minorities, will be the ones whose children will most likely be removed from their homes.
Caplan stated, “It’s completely hypocritical, or to put it another way, a schizophrenic stance. It’s OK to threaten to take a kid away or charge someone more for insurance. But it’s also OK to advertise unhealthy food and put toys in kids’ meals.”
County workers for this young boy in Cleveland Heights believe that removing him from his family, at least temporarily, might help him, stating that he has already lost a few pounds.
I can’t help but wonder if his weight loss has more to do with missing his family and being traumatized by the separation than anything the foster parents have done to monitor his weight. Especially since the mother’s lawyers have been told that the foster mother who has the boy going to school in a neighboring suburb now, is having a tough time getting him to all of his appointments. Amata said that children services was even discussing the possibility of getting the foster mother additional help or placing the boy in a new foster home with a personal trainer.
What a slap in the face to this mother! They removed her son because she couldn’t resolve her son’s weight issue on her own, but when it is apparent that the foster family isn’t being successful either, they offer them additional resources. Why weren’t those resources offered to the mother allowing her to keep her son where he wants to be?
Amata agreed, saying, “I wonder why they didn’t offer the mother that kind of extra help.”
Is this another example of too much control by government agencies? How can this case possibly warrant the removal of a child from his home when more imminently dangerous situations do not? And how does the government plan to provide the resources to remove other obese children like this young boy from their homes?
I’d love to hear your input on this one because this is a powder keg. Do you agree with the decision made by the Department of Children and Family Services, or is this overreaching?
Let’s hear from you.