Is passive parenting a form of abuse?

More and more questions are being asked about whether ‘passive parenting’ – for example allowing your child to become morbidly obese – should be classed as a form of abuse.

Everyone remembers the dramatic story of the 50 stone 19-year-old girl, who famously had to have the wall of her home in South Wales knocked down because she required urgent medical treatment but could not get out of the front door.

Cases of childhood obesity are continuing to rise, as are the number of parents who refuse to address their child’s poor health. So, in cases like these (and the above) – should social services step in and take the child into care? After all, underfeeding a child is considered to be a form of ‘mistreatment’, so why is overfeeding not taken more seriously?

In the case of the 50 stone girl, social workers and medics were on standby in their masses, but wasn’t this all a little too late? The question on many people’s lips during the ordeal was ‘why didn’t someone intervene sooner?’, for example taking the girl into care before a crew of firefighters needed to pull down a wall of her house.

According to child protection consultant Joanna Nicholas, child obesity should be treated as a form of child mistreatment.

Speaking to Radio 4’s The Report, Nicholas explained that if a child is obese then there is a physical impact upon the child, the implications for their future health and a psychological impact, and these factors combined are what makes it abuse.

Nicholas has been involved in six child protection cases in which obesity was the key issue. She said: “In one case the parents were both clinically obese and their view was that there wasn’t a problem and we were sticking our noses in.”

In the above case, the child was placed on the protection register and help and support for the child and family were put into position. However, the unwillingness of the parents to accept the fact there was a problem and the fact that they did not engage in the support on offer meant that the case ended up in court. In the end, a decision was made by the court to remove the child from the parents care.

Of course, introducing such interventions on a countrywide scale would be extremely difficult. Social workers would also require the advice of medical colleagues for help with assessment, and undoubtedly every case would be different – a general rule stating that a child with a certain Body Mass Index needed to be taken into care would not only be impractical, but also unfair and irrelevant in certain circumstances.

However, Colin Green from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services believes that social workers would simply need to ask for less guidance and instead focus on exercising their professional judgement.

What do you think? Are you the parent of an overweight child and simply cannot get them to lose weight? Or do you believe that allowing a child to become considerably overweight is a form of abuse?

Let us know your thoughts by leaving your comments below.

If you are a parent with an overweight child but a) you are not sure how to exercise your authority and help your child to lose weight, or b) can see your child becoming overweight but know very little about healthy living – you may benefit from the help of a health coach or a coach specialising in parenting. Visit our health coaching and parent coaching fact-sheets to find out more.

To hear more on this story, listen to The Report on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 16th August at 20:00 BST.

View and comment on the original BBC News article.

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Written by Emma Hilton
Written by Emma Hilton
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