The decision by social workers in Cleveland, Ohio, to take a 200-pound third grader away from his mother and place him in foster care is raising concerns about how much power county and state social service agencies have to interfere in the lives of families.
As reported by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the eight-year-old boy was taken from the home in October after case workers determined that his mother wasn’t doing enough to control his weight. The officials said the boy’s severe obesity placed him at risk for developing such medical conditions as diabetes and hypertension.
“But even though the state health department estimates that more than 12 percent of third-graders statewide are severely obese,” reported the newspaper, “… this is the first time anyone in the county or the state can recall a child being taken from a parent for a strictly weight-related issue.”
The case has led to renewed concern about the level of arbitrary power social agencies have to step into private family matters. While, as in most communities around the nation, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County does not have specific guidelines for intervening with overweight kids, Mary Louise Madigan, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, said social workers stepped into this situation because they considered the mother’s inability to get her son’s weight under control a form of neglect. “This child’s problem was so severe that we had to take custody,” Madigan told the Plain-Dealer, noting that her department had worked with the mother for more than a year before stepping in.
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