The shock headlines in the Daily Mirror suggesting that at least 74 children had been received into care due to being obese was of course misleading – the physical condition of the child was just one factor in all the cases of obesity in under sixteens. They had obtained through a Freedom of Information request of figures from 128 local authorities. Several of the authorities questioned the interpretation and challenged the assertion that this was the primary cause of neglect, some even had at risk plans but no removal of the child from the family home.
The problem of obesity in children is growing and there is no denying that it poses a significant health and parenting problem. According to the Press Association, figures show there has been a 12% rise in hospital admissions for under 16’s in the last year.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre published the following table on hospital admissions where obesity was the primary diagnosis and it has figures for obesity in under 16’s as well…
Statistics will always be interpreted in dozens of ways and arguments abound about what to conclude but I will say that when I was practising social work and child protection cases, the most difficult to assess were those “where love is not enough”. Those where there just wasn’t enough capacity to parent safely. All efforts were made to put in people and resources to help and teach the parent everything a child needed. But still so much was lacking – health attention (basic inoculations, dental care, ear problems, eye checks, clinic appointments for centile checks etc etc) thin summer clothes in mid winter, diet issues or forgetting to feed and the school regularly providing a starving child breakfast. Where there is no underlying medical reason, the indulgence of a child into overeating and obesity would probably be a factor in realising that even with all the help in the world, the parent who probably had no decent modelling as a child themselves (and so had no image of what was needed) could not be considered safe even though they felt love for the child.
This was the most difficult assessment to make, as no social worker, medic or court wanted to take care proceedings if it could possibly be avoided. It just came down to risk. So I’m not surprised that our society with its growing obesity problem is having to consider this more frequently as a factor in judging the safety of a child. I just wish the sensationalist newspapers would talk a bit more sense and a bit less shock.by