Children's Rights

Children removed from 'fat family'

Social workers who removed two children from an overweight family acted yesterday to ensure that all their remaining children, including a newborn baby, are taken into care.

One other child was moved out of the family home with two more due to go by the end of the week. Earlier, a baby delivered by Caesarean section was taken away from the couple just 24 hours after her birth on Monday. The move followed a children’s panel ruling that social workers could take the three children, two girls aged 9 and 13, and boy aged 12, into care immediately. The children did not attend the hearing or make any representations.

Speaking to The Times yesterday the father of the baby said that the whole family was “heartbroken”. He said: “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I can’t tell you how powerless I feel. The other children are devastated too. My wife was told she could stay with our baby for another 24 hours but then she would have to go home alone. She got up out of her bed and left the hospital there and then. I had to wait behind to say my goodbyes to the baby.”

However, a spokesman for Dundee Council social services department, which has been working with the family for more than ten years, said that obesity was not the only reason for the removal of the children. “We will not comment in detail on any family with whom we are involved, but we have made it clear on numerous occasions that children would not be removed from a family environment just because of a weight issue.”

Councillor Jim Barrie, social services’ convener, said: “We have a duty to look after the welfare of children and social workers have felt it is necessary to take this action. It has been done in regards to the best interests of the baby and the family as a whole.”

However, the family’s lawyer, Kathleen Price, said that the family had not been given a fair hearing, and had not been kept informed about the action taken by social workers. “There is a serious question here about how you ensure that the rights of the families are protected,” she said. “It is very difficult for the family to get a fair hearing if the social workers have got it wrong. The [children’s panel] are very influenced by the social workers’ recommendations ... The family is not being helped here, they have been systematically bullied and disempowered.”

The saga began when the family sought help from social workers over weight problems and were then dealt with by Dundee Families Project at a cost of £114,000. A report from the DFP last week apparently recommended that the whole family be given close supervision in a supported residential block. But instead, social workers decided to ask the lay members of the Children’s Reporters Panel to allow them to remove all the children immediately.

The father said social workers had assured him last week that they would not go near the hospital and said he was “shocked and traumatised” that they had come into the labour ward and attempted to serve papers on his wife. The family has already made two legal attempts to have their two children returned.

The father claimed that the children had not been consulted. “We are heartbroken. We love our kids and we have tried to do right by them.“