Over the summer, an opinion piece in a medical journal suggested that severely obese children should be put in foster care to help them lose weight.
When North Philadelphia mom Cindy Rodriguez heard the news coverage of the editorial, she, along with a lot of other parents, was worried.
“The thing I thought was if they’re overweight, they’re just gonna go take them out of your house,” Rodriguez said. “That’s where it made me go crazy. I was like ‘Well that’s just plain wrong, you just don’t do that.'”
Concerned mothers wrote and called the city Department of Human Services asking if it were true. Now, the agency is trying to spread the word that it’s not.
Wednesday evening, the city hosted a town hall meeting to allay parents’ fears about child welfare policies and obesity.
The main message?
“No, we’re not just going to come in and take children who are overweight,” said spokeswoman Alicia Taylor.
But it is not quite that simple.
Dr. Cindy Christian, medical director for the department, says in some cases, medical problems related to obesity have led to department intervention.
She gave a hypothetical example of a child who needs a machine to help him breathe at night.
“We would recognize that that’s a significant health consequence of obesity,” Christian said. “So we would need — as a family, as a parent and as a child — to figure out how we’re going to address the underlying problem — obesity.”
If DHS were called in, it would advise the family on food choices, maybe help them get a YMCA membership and encourage physical activity, but if no progress were made over a sustained period, the agency may step in.
“That might be a situation where the Department of Human Services feels that the child’s safety and their health safety is at such risk that we need to remove a child temporarily,” Christian said.
Similarly, multiple hospitalizations in the same year for diabetes complications could be ruled “medical neglect.”
In the last decade, Christian said the department has received more and more calls about severely obese kids.