A few months ago, the news shocked the nation: officials took a Cleveland, Ohio nine-year-old from his mother and put him in foster care, on the charges that he weighed in at a whopping 218 pounds and she was doing little to help him slim down. Now, 50 pounds lighter, the boy is returning home, along with a free gym membership, nutritional counseling, and exercise equipment, donations from health organizations in the area.
Back in March, officials returned the child to his mother under protective supervision. But it took all the way until May for a juvenile judge to release the boy from the supervision, though social workers still plan on looking in on the family from time to time.
“We will remain involved as long as the mother allows us to remain involved,” said Mary Louise Madigan, spokeswoman for Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services. “She doesn’t have to allow anything anymore, because essentially the two years has passed, legally we’re at the end of the line.”
The county’s Children and Family Services agency claims to have worked with the family for up to a year before finally placing the boy in the care of his uncle last fall.
Reports indicated that the boy, who suffers from sleep apnea, a weight-related sleep disorder that causes sufferers to cease breathing for brief points during the night, first received attention when his mother brought him to a hospital for breathing problems last year. The then-second-grader was promptly enrolled in “Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight,” a weight-loss program run by Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. He managed to shed a few pounds, but after he began to gain them back, the Department of Children and Family Services asked for custody of the boy, seeking to place him into a foster home.
Since then, the nine-year-old has dieted his way down to 166 pounds.
But while the 50 dropped pounds is a major milestone, the case has raised some questions about the direction in which the fight against childhood obesity will sway.
Some wonder: is it beneficial, or even ethical, to separate kids from their families because they’re at risk for obesity-related diseases? According to one family who’s gone through a similar ordeal, it’s not.
Anamarie Regino, now a teenager, was placed in foster care as a ninety-pound three-year-old. She didn’t improve, was diagnosed with a genetic predisposition to being heavy, and eventually, returned to live with her parents.
“They say it’s for the well-being of the child, but it did more damage than any money or therapy could ever to do to fix it,” said her mother, Adela Martinez.
But on the other side of the spectrum, some health pundits encourage the drastic measures, claiming that allowing a child to become obese is akin to child abuse and endangerment.
Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston, and Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health, say the point isn’t to blame or punish parents, but to get obese children the help their families can’t—or don’t—provide them.
Government intervention “”ideally will support not just the child but the whole family, with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible. That may require instruction on parenting,” Ludwig said.
Murtaugh, Ludwig’s co-author on an opinion piece on the topic, concurred.
“Despite the discomfort posed by state intervention, it may sometimes be necessary to protect a child.”
Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Popcorn02.jpg