Obese children to be taken from their parents

Obese children to be taken from their parents

By Liz Lockhart

The threat of having their four youngest children taken from them has been placed on a couple from Dundee.  The parents have committed no crime and have faced no accusations of deliberate abuse or cruelty.  The reason for the decision of the authorities to remove them is that the children are considered to be obese.

I read the account of this family from Scotland in the Telegraph.co.uk and felt sickened by what I discovered.  Here is the background to the decision to remove these four children:

The Telegraph says that the mother of seven children, six of whom are overweight, face the ‘unbearable’ prospect of never seeing their four youngest again if authorities act on a threat to remove them.

Three girls aged 11, five and one, and a boy aged five, are set to be put up for adoption or ‘fostered without contact’ because their parents failed to help them to slim down.  This would result in the parents being unable to trace them and the family could only be reunited if the children try to find their family when they are old enough.

The report goes on to explain that social services warned the couple three years ago that their children would be taken away from if they did not bring their weight under control. 

For two years the family has lived in a special council-funded house in which they were placed under curfew and only three of their children were permitted to live with their parents at any one time.  They had constant supervision where social workers observed them during meal times but no dietary rules were imposed and there was no significant improvement in the children’s weight.

Last week social workers told the parents, who have been married for 20 years, of their decision to remove their children.

In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, the mother said ‘They picked on us because of our size to start with and they just haven’t let go, despite the fact we’ve done everything to lose weight and meet their demands.  The father told The Mail ‘The pressure of living in a family unit would have broken anyone.  We were being treated like children and cut off from the outside world.  To have a social worker stand and watch you eat is intolerable.’

The Telegraph reports that a Dundee City Council spokesperson said: ‘The council always acts in the best interests of children, with their welfare and safety in mind.’

Mental Healthy has previously reported on the psychological damage which is done to children when they are removed from their home and family and raised concerns over the increase in the numbers of children being taken into care (you can read that report here.)  I stress that all children need to be protected and any abuse or negligence needs to be investigated, but how far are we going down the road to a ‘Nanny State’? There seems to be no other reason for the council's decision in any report I can find, so can we now assume that obesity is going to be a reason for considering taking children into care?

While it is clear that responsible parenting should include balanced meals and healthy lifestyle, is the road which is being trodden by social services turning into a motorway?   Where does this practice end?   If parents can lose their children for possible ‘over-feeding’ then what about children of smokers, binge drinkers and parents of selective or under eaters? Of course we are not advocating such lifestyles, but really when does taking children away from a family become less of an abuse than eating too much junk food?

In my opinion these parents needed a completely different type of help.  To be observed by social workers every time they ate was clearly not working (and why were they still allowed to eat junk with such intervention?).  For them all to have had education and weight counselling would seem to have been far more appropriate.  Obesity often goes hand in hand with several psychological conditions and can lead to low self-esteem and depression and it seems that the vast amount of tax-payers money spent on trying to manipulate this families eating habits should perhaps have been spent getting to the root cause of their problems. 

So I ask you this: is having an obese child, child abuse? Have your say on my blog here

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