Weighing in on the Rights of Parents


A Cleveland, Ohio mother is losing her child for a pretty unique reason: the state has determined that her child is too fat.

The mother brought her child into a hospital sometime last year, citing concern over problems breathing.  The doctors at the Rainbow Babies and Children’s hospital diagnosed him with sleep apnea (a disease commonly associated with being overweight), contacted social workers, and enrolled the 200+ lb. youth in a program geared towards shedding pounds.  The youth experienced moderate success for a while, but quickly regained the weight. 

The mother of the child (whose name has not been released) was distraught, shocked at the fact that her child was being forced into the foster care system based on her weight.  The mother was quoted as stating, “It’s a lifestyle change and they are trying to make it seem like I am not embracing that. It is very hard, but I am trying”.

The Constitution places a high level of importance on the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit.  Legally, the state must have a compelling state interest in removing a child from their parent’s care.  A “compelling state interest” can be the health and well-being of an individual.  What’s curious –and possibly dangerous- about this however, is the fact that America is facing an obesity epidemic.

For those of you on the side of removing the child from the parent citing the better good, consider the case of Adela Martinez.  A decade ago, her three-year old daughter, Anamarie was removed from her care.  At 90 lbs., the state decided that the mother was unfit to raise her, and Anamarie was placed into the foster care system.  Years later, however, when no progress was made in regulating the child’s weight, it was discovered that Anamarie suffered from a genetic predisposition that complicated weight loss and growth.  She was returned to her parent’s care

This situation has the potential to directly impact parenting rights in America.  At what point is a child overweight enough to be removed from the care of their parents?  How much time should  a parent have to get their child’s weight under control?  Under this standard, would the government be wrong for not removing a child from the care of their parents if they are morbidly obese?   What about the fact that higher levels of obesity are reported in poorer communities where the unhealthier, cheaper food options are the only ones?  Is the solution to remove children from their parents care, or are the other solutions available?  There are tons of questions, and not enough definitive answers.  I think the knee-jerk reaction to remove a child from their parent’s care is a dangerous one,  especially when considering the possible ramifications of placing a child into “the system”.