Childhood Obesity Deemed Child Abuse in Controversial Court Case

Childhood obesity can endanger both the physical health and emotional well-being of a child. But does the State have the right to take a morbidly obese child from a parent on the basis of the child’s obesity? That’s the question raised by the case of Alexander Draper, a 14-year-old boy who weighs 555 pounds.

Childhood obesity at center of controversial court caseMost people would agree that when parental neglect is endangering the life of a child, the State should step in to protect that child. But does the State have the right to take a morbidly obese child from a parent on the basis of endangerment?

That’s the question raised by the Alexander Draper case. Draper is a 14-year-old boy from South Carolina who was recently placed into foster care by the State on the basis of the threat to his health posed by his extreme obesity. According to legal counsel for the South Carolina Department of Social Services, a court order for custody of the boy was issued because his mother was not meeting his medical needs. Alexander Draper weighs 555 pounds.

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His mother, Jerri Gray, was arrested in June after fleeing to Maryland with the boy, and is facing charges of criminal neglect for allowing him to become so obese. Her attorney, however, says that Gray followed the guidelines set for her son’s nutrition dictated by the state’s Department of Social Services.

He warns that a conviction of his client on the basis of child neglect will open the door for social service agencies in other states to take children away from parents who have allowed them to become overweight.

So how did Alexander come to weigh a quarter of a ton if his mom followed the dietary guidelines? He ate when she wasn’t around. Gray’s attorney points out that the boy’s eating habits were completely unsupervised while he was at school.

And, since Gray’s mother works the late shift at her job, for most of each day he was outside of her direct custody and free to eat whatever he liked in whatever quantity he could get.

So could the government of your state come in and take your children away? It’s unlikely – but it’s possible. Child-endangerment laws in most states allow neglect charges to be filed against parents only in cases of imminent threat to the life, health, or well-being of their children.

The question is: Is obesity an “imminent threat” in the eyes of the law?

In California, the answer is “yes”: the legal definition of child medical neglect in California has been changed to specifically include morbid obesity. So far, only courts in California and Indiana have chosen to file neglect charges against parents of obese children in those states. Courts in other states, including Texas, New York and Pennsylvania, are examining the Gray-Draper case closely.

In the meantime, Alexander Draper remains in foster care, and still weighs over 500 pounds. Jerri Gray is currently free on a $50,000 bond and awaiting trial.

7 Responses

  1. gangstalking

    I think it’s wrong to take kids from their loving parents because the kids are overweight. Why don’t we start taking anorexic kids and bulimic kids? Right because we have proper compassion when kids are too skinny, we see it as a disease and a societal problem and we don’t blame the parents, but if a kid is overweight it’s the parents fault. Double standard, and it’s wrong.

  2. sybelj

    I don’t think they should take children away from the parent in this case; I don’t consider our foster care system to be that ideal anyway, but I digress. In this case (or with anorexic or bulimic children) this would be an opportunity to have a social worker help both parent and children to start eating healthy, closely monitoring and tracking progress. Finding out the why behind the over-eating. Why must the solution the state came up with be so drastic and on top of that…there are no lessons to be taught or life long skills to adopt for either Ms. Gray or her son. Who is the state helping exactly?

  3. sloeguy

    If parents, for whatever reason, neglect the well-being of their children, alarms should go off. Whether or not the state should get involved depends on the case. If parents fail to make progress with the initial social service contact period, then removal might very well be the only recourse the state has to protect the child.

  4. sean

    You are abviously obese as well…quit being lazy and feed your children some decent nutricious food..”taking kids from their loving parents” loving parents don’t let their 14 year old child become 555 pounds..shoot yourself you are beyond stupid

  5. BonnieLuvs

    What a child eats at school the parents dont know or when their out at their friends house. I think that taking kids away from their parents because the kid is overwieght is in fact idiotic. Also When a child is a teenager they should be able to decide what they put in their mouth not only that but if the kid has an eating disorder then that should be taken accounted for

  6. Rete

    I just recently read an article talking about another obese child that was taken from her mother also and it mentions this story. His mother claimed that she bought him fast food couse’ it was all she could afford and that she could not afford to pay for his special diet

  7. Zayra

    this is the right thing to do the parents are to blame this; a 14 year old life is in danger and all you can say is that its idiotic? Really? Well I beg to differ parents have a huge say in their child lifestyle, some parents are lazy dont cook and stuff their childern full of junk food and fast food and expect no consequences….they are unfit to paernt if the “don’t have time” or can’t “afford” a special diet


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