In Cleveland, an eight year old boy who weighs over 200 pounds has been taken from his home and placed in foster care. Does this seem extreme? Not according to Harvard University researchers who think it's perfectly appropriate to rip obese children from their homes (as I wrote about here).
The third grader's mother is understandably distraught (and is probably panicked about all the legal bills she's about to rack up because of the state's action). She told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that officials from the Ohio Department of Children and Family Services "…are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don’t love my child. 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.”
There are several things that concern me about this case. First, this boy is obese, not showing signs of physical abuse or neglect. There is, and should be, a high bar set for taking children away from their parents. When a child exhibits signs of physical abuse or systemic neglect, a child should be taken from their homes and placed in a safe environment. But unlike signs of physical trauma, the root cause of a child's obesity can be very difficult to determine.
Take, for instance, the case of Anamarie Regino (who I've written about previously here). In her case, Anamarie was taken from her home and placed in foster care after doctors determined she was gaining too much weight. She stayed in foster care for months while her frantic parents tired desperately to regain custody. Later, it was determined that Anamarie suffered from a condition (which has yet to be identified) that prevents her from losing weight. She was returned to her parents a few months later but the event is emblematic of just what can happen when overly eager social workers descend on parents who are doing their best to keep their kids healthy.
Anamarie's case raises several important questions: who determines if a child reaches the level of obesity that would warrant state action? Just how fat does a child need to be? Merely obese? Morbidly obese? Do they need to have diminishing health (high blood pressure, signs of a heart condition) to qualify for foster care? Which measurements will be used? Let's not forget that doctors often use the government's measurements to determine who is overweight and obese–a measurement that is a well known bad determiner of health. BMI measures weight alone without considering muscle versus fat. For example, according to these government BMI measurements, such Hollywood hotties as Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, George Clooney and Matt Damon would be considered overweight.
Lastly, let's not forget about the deep emotional scars left with a child taken from their families. This is an eight year old boy who is no doubt terrified to be away from home. He may emerge from this incident thinner but is anyone considering the great harm that can be caused to children who are removed from their homes?
We need to examine why our society appears to be valuing a child's weight over their emotional well-being.