A report published in the Cleveland Plains-Dealer this morning discusses the recent removal of an 8-year old boy from his family home due to his being grossly overweight (he weighs 200 lbs).
The obvious reaction to a county run agency stepping in on such an issue is, I believe, summed up beautifully in this one quote from said article.
“…one could get ethical whiplash in a world where one arm of government is so concerned about a child’s weight that it removes him from his home, while another branch of government argues that french fries and tomato paste on pizza should be counted as servings of vegetables.”
Where on earth does the responsibility begin and end on both fronts?
I’ll say right off the bat that I heavily empathize with the mother here because, although she has made strides to curb the unhealthy eating habits of her young son, she has often battled with environmental factors that often undercut her efforts when she’s not around to monitor him.
Furthermore, as a single-mother, living on a substitute teaching income, she does not have the money to enroll her son at the local YMCA or hire the services of a dietician to help her navigate the often confusing world of food.
As one who often takes great pains to read labels and obey serving sizes, I know precisely how challenging it can be to discern the good foods from the not-so-good ones, and I can say that’s this is not a skill that can be developed overnight.
Keeping all of this in mind, how can any agency justify removing this child from his home based solely on his physical condition?
I worked in child protective services for a short time and I can tell you, without hesitation, that I’ve seen more children left in homes where physical and verbal abuse are present than I would have liked and those same children exhibited signs of abuse at the time of the investigation–yet they remained with the parents because removal was a last resort.
So, what’s the message we’re sending in this instance, you can abuse your child, but if you feed them too much, we’re gonna take them away?
Sounds silly, if you ask me.
How about you try to help fix what’s broken before you destroy families who don’t have the resources to make immediate changes to a learned—and heretofore unchecked—lifestyle.
I’m not making excuses for this mother–I applaud this agency for being proactive and taking the steps necessary to address this matter– However, instead of removing a well-adjusted child into a foster homes (prior to the removal, this boy was on the honor roll) how about you offer alternatives to the parent?
The article states that the agency has looked into moving the child to a home where a personal trainer exists. How about gifting the mother a gym membership and arranging bi-monthly visits with a registered dietician who can assist them in reaching their goals?
Why stress county/state funds by doling out money to a foster parent—who can request reimbursements for travel to and from medical appointments and also receives a monthly payment for keeping said child in their home—enrolling yet another individual into the medicaid program (because you can bet that money for this boy’s healthcare will need to come from somewhere),or setting up yet another situation where food stamps will be needed just because you’re not thinking outside the box?
Obesity isn’t a community problem, it’s a social one,and a fix for it is needed at every level—starting with the federal government.
I’m all for offering help to those who are actively trying to make a change in the way their families think about food, but that change will take time—particularly if that particular family is struggling to make ends meet and the cheapest food available is often not the healthiest—but don’t confuse intervention with education.
Think first, then act.