Child health expert slams proposal to refer obese kids to CYF

By Rahia Timutimu
Photo / file

A child health expert has criticised a proposal to refer obese children to child protection services for "medical neglect".

Director of the Liggins Institute at Auckland University Professor Wayne Cutfield said it's, "Incredibly disappointing that the way we manage child obesity could end up being children being removed from their families."

Protocols are in development by doctors to refer obese children to child protection services, if parents disregard medical guidance to help their children lose weight.

Dr Cutfield said he was aware that there is an obesity problem in New Zealand, however says, "simply blaming and shaming and then potentially removing or incarcerating children is the wrong approach".

He also stated that some parents did not realise their children were obese, especially with younger children.

Starship Hospital paediatrician Dr Patrick Kelly said he was working alongside Police and Child, Youth and Family (CYF) to acquire a "traffic light" system to guide referrals to CYF for "medical neglect".

"Green means we are working with the family to make sure they have all the cultural support they need and all the access issues in place, such as transport," he said.  

"Orange is where you are starting to think we are still not making progress and this is putting a child at risk.  Red is where you are starting to involve the statutory authorities.  It's not specific to obesity, but I can imagine there might be some obesity cases."

Family First NZ is behind appeals for intervention in families where obesity is a crucial health problem, but says that intervention by CYF and removal of children from their families will only intensify the problem.

“Family First supports the approach suggested by Starship Hospital paediatrician Dr Patrick Kelly whereby families receive the education and support required and intervention is only used as an absolute last resource where the obesity is part of an extended package of neglect and abuse happening within the family.  

Compulsory attendance at courses and monitoring in the home may be required to get some parents to take action.  But to remove a child from their family will be hugely traumatic for that child and may add to the problem,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.