Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cleveland Heights Child Placed in Foster Care for Being Too Fat



'Obesity in children' photo (c) 2006, Joe 13 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

It was only a matter of time until the fat hatred that has come to be socially normalized resulted in the removal of a child from his home.  Once again, we can see the argument of what about the children being deployed to actually hurt and damage a child rather than to protect him or her.

An 8-year-old Cleveland Heights boy was taken from his family and placed in foster care last month after county case workers said his mother wasn't doing enough to control his weight.
At more than 200 pounds, the third-grader is considered severely obese and at risk for developing such diseases as diabetes and hypertension.

But even though the state health department estimates more than 12 percent of third-graders statewide are severely obese -- that could mean 1,380 in Cuyahoga County alone -- 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 plays into an emerging national debate that has some urging social-service agencies to step in when parents have failed to address a weight problem. (source)
Essentially, the state has decided that being fat is far more harmful than separating this eight year old honour student from the only family he has ever known.  According to his teachers, the child is will adjusted and participates in school activities, yet he was removed in the belief that his weight could potentially represent future health problems.

I don't believe that this is about worry for the health of the child. I believe it has more to do with stigmatizing fat and asserting that fat is naturally a danger is what is behind the removal of this child.  It is interesting to note that children are abused on a daily basis and yet they remain in the custody of their abusers.  These children who desperately need our help are allowed to slip through the cracks but a fat child who is well adjusted and whose mother is actively attempting to change his eating and exercise habits is seen as existing in immediate danger.


Beyond the clear bigotry in this policy, the obvious concern is that it will be used to target children of colour.  Because we live in a White supremacist state, people of colour are impoverished. A simple glance at the unemployment rate by race reveals the truth about poverty in North America. In the U.S. African Americans have absolutely been disproportionately effected by the current recession depression.  As much as weight is about genetics, today it is often a sign of poverty.

When you are poor and have a family to feed, suddenly foods that are high in carbohydrates and fat become a legitimate food option. To fill my fruit bowl this time of year costs me approximately 25 -30 dollars a week.  Fruit is simply a luxury that many families cannot afford.  Though frozen vegetables are often cheaper than fresh, when it comes right down to it, for the price of 1 bag of frozen broccoli, a family can purchase two boxes of kraft dinner, which will be far more filling than broccoli florets. In many cases, it does not come down to not knowing about healthy choices but an inability to afford them.  There are many communities that are food deserts, which means that people simply have no access to fruit and vegetables. 

The other issue that does not get discussed is time constraints.  North Americans are now working more hours than their parents, and yet we were told that technology would make our lives easier. In many cases, it is necessary to work sometimes two or three jobs to keep a roof over ones head, and clothes one back. Food is something that is often consumed on the way to something else.  Having the time to cook and the tools to cook is a luxury.  If the choice comes down to opening a box, or going through a drive thru, or going hungry, obviously fast food or the boxed meal is the choice that most would make. This, combined with the fact that fast food is often cheaper to purchase, though a trip through the McDonald's drive thru contains all of the fat, calories and sodium that one needs in one day means that the reasonable and affordable choice is not the healthy choice. If parents are feeding their kids unhealthy food, it's because of an inability to afford fresh fruits and vegetables, or an inability to find the time to cook due to to the pressure to earn a living.

The government is absolutely complicit in the impoverishment of poor and working class people and so to remove their children for manifesting the consequences of said poverty is hypocritical at best.  Budget cutting has resulted in the reduction or outright removal of gym classes.  In many states, food stamps cannot be used at farmers markets.  There is also the ongoing government subsidies to companies that produce unhealthy food. How can a government that cannot even ensure that healthy food is readily and cheaply available, punish a family for having a fat child?

One thing is certain, if this policy becomes normalized, more children of colour will be in foster care.  When we consider that both Canadian and American governments have a long history of destroying our families and stealing our children, how can people of colour not be concerned by this alarming decision? Unless a parent is being abusive or neglecting their child, the best interest of the child is to remain with their birth family and this is especially true when we look at children of colour. 

Rather than removing this child from his home, the state should be readily offering whatever aid the family needs to make healthy choices and increase time spent exercising.  For too long, many have felt that it is better to remove children from their families than to give families the tools that they need to have a decent level of subsistence. You can see this argument manifest in stories about inter national adoption where the White parent is celebrated for saving a child from growing up in abject poverty with their family of colour.  The removal of child in this instance is not about saving him but about disciplining and fat hatred.

If the state was truly interested in this family, they would be providing tools and not causing harm by separating them.  This poor little boy is only allowed to see his mother two hours a week. I cannot imagine the fear, pain and shame that he feels. How could he not look at himself in the mirror and blame himself for what has occurred?  What the state has done is effectively introduced shame to his life and taught him that he his body is something to be hated and scorned.