The Family Courts are facing an increase in applications from local authorities who are concerned about the weight of children.
In October 2020, District Judge Ellis, sitting in the Family Court in Surrey, authorised the removal of two children from their parents’ care and approved a care plan of long-term foster care – the primary concern being the children’s weight.
At the time of the judgment, one child was 16 (almost 17) and his sister was 13. The children lived with their parents. The children are described as being clinically severely overweight. The children’s weight had been a concern for approximately ten years.
Over the years, the local authority had offered the family extensive support in managing the children’s weight. It is noteworthy that the children were deemed not to have any underlying medical condition which would contribute to weight gain. One has to question whether the court would have sanctioned removal of the children if they had.
The local authority over the years and throughout the proceedings had paid for gym memberships for the family, provided the family with Fitbits, assisted in meal plans and also supported them in accessing Weight Watchers.
Despite the above, the children failed to lose weight. The parents did not promote healthy eating and were not modelling good eating habits or behaviours for the children. The parents inconsistently attended Weight Watchers.
The court noted that the children were very intelligent and engaging and it was clear that, save for the issue of their weight, they had been raised well.
However, when applying the law and considering the children’s welfare as the paramount consideration, the court made orders for the children to be placed in long-term foster care (albeit accepting the older child could not be forced to move). The judgment makes clear that risks to the children include death, diabetes, heart conditions, joint problems and concerns relating to mental health. The children had to be given an opportunity to lose weight and be educated on a balanced diet to enable them to mature and grow into adulthood in a healthy way.
Whilst there is no guidance on “how big is too big”, it is clear that when the weight of a child starts to impact on their health (physical and mental) and when the support being offered isn’t being accepted or actioned, then the court will take the matter very seriously and it may lead to the removal of children from their parents’ care.
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