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Removing a Child from Home Due to Obesity is a Serious Issue

There have been a couple of cases in the news of social services moving children to live with family members after parents have seemingly ignored doctor orders to help the child lose weight for health reasons, not just in the United States but in Scotland and Canada as well. Nutrition and a healthier environment is also an argument used to determine custody and/or primary residence for a child. The courts are paying attention to the childhood obesity crisis in the United States, which can cause physical and emotional issues for children that extend into adulthood. It is certainly a controversial and inflammatory topic for many.

I admit to having high nutritional standards and being pretty opinionated about what the children in my family are fed. There are certain ingredients that can be considered contraband in my house. As a therapist specializing in adoption, particularly children from hard places, I am familiar with how attention to diet can greatly impact behavior and symptoms of several disorders including ADHD, autism, Aspberger’s, and depression. I think nutrition is vitally important to physical and mental health. In the same way, as a therapist specializing in adoption, I never take separating a child from his or her family lightly. While there are times it is necessary for the health and safety of a child, and times it is outside of anyone’s control, it will have a lasting impact on the child.

Medical neglect has long been an issue of concern for social services. A child can be removed from a home if medication is not administered properly or treatment plans are not followed. As childhood obesity has become a major problem in the United States, it is not surprising that a medical treatment plan for weight loss would eventually become an issue of concern. Despite what many fear, social services does not want to remove children and the primary goal is nearly always reunification. I would be surprised if a child was removed from a home due to weight issues unless a parent was given multiple warnings.

We all know that following a diet and/or exercise plan can be difficult, and it must be even more difficult to enforce such a plan on a child. It would not be an enjoyable task, but clearly the child’s doctor thought it was essential. It is important to note that every case I read, the child was more than overweight; he or she was in the 99th percentile for weight, making the child morbidly obese. It may also be important to note that malnutrition can be an issue for obese children; weight does not mean a child is ingesting appropriate and balanced nutritious foods. These thoughts may or may not impact your opinion on this controversial topic.

It is always sad when a child must be separated from parents or whatever family with which he or she is familiar, whether that is a grandparent, aunt, or older cousin. I don’t believe it is something that the courts, social services, or anyone takes lightly. Even with my belief to the vital importance of nutrition for both physical and emotional health, I believe separation is a final attempt to save the life of a child.

January 4th, 2012

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