Skip to main content



Child-Maltreatment-Research-L (CMRL) List Serve

Database of Past CMRL Messages

Welcome to the database of past Child-Maltreatment-Research-L (CMRL) list serve messages. The table below contains all past CMRL messages (text only, no attachments) from Nov. 20, 1996 - December 22, 2017 and is updated quarterly.

Instructions: Postings are listed for browsing with the newest messages first. Click on the linked ID number to see a message. You can search the author, subject, message ID, and message content fields by entering your criteria into this search box:

Message ID: 8911
Date: 2011-07-18

Author:Chaffin, Mark J. (HSC)

Subject:RE: David Ludwig's recommendation to use foster care to treat obese children

Well, this seems like the latest in a long string of advocates who want to appropriate the child welfare system in the service of their particular social, political or health agenda. The agendas sometimes are good ones and sometimes not, but regardless, the question is, “is there strong public consensus that the parenting is so reprehensible, that the state should step into private family life and (coercively) intervene up to and including taking children away from their parents or terminating rights?” IMO, child abuse is ultimately a social and political construct, not a medical or psychological one. The fact that something is medically or psychologically bad for children has never been sufficient cause for child welfare intervention. The world is full of things that are bad for children. Watching too much TV or internet is bad for children. Having an alcoholic parent is bad for children. But, by themselves, not currently grounds for child welfare to intrude. We should be especially cautious about child welfare involvement in things where the endangerment involves harms that may occur years or decades down the road, rather than an imminent safety risk. The de facto standard for child welfare intervention is not just things that are bad for children, but things that involve clearly and consensually intolerable, if not corrupt, parenting. We’re talking about parenting that would evoke such a broad public intolerance that legislatures will write it into the law as legitimizing coercion if necessary. Many advocates over the years have tried to push their way under this legal and policy umbrella and failed. Let’s review some of the failed past and current attempts to make something into child abuse. I’m not endorsing these—simply recounting some history: a) not placing children in car seats should be child abuse; 2) circumcision should be child abuse; 3) spanking should be child abuse; 4)failure to vaccinate should be child abuse; 5) growing up in a polygamous household should be child abuse; 6) having gay parents should be child abuse; 7) second-hand smoke should be child abuse; and the one that has taken deepest root, but is still quite controversial, 8) witnessing domestic violence should be child abuse. No argument from me that car seats are good, that vaccination is a public health revolution, that smoking is a health hazard, or that seeing DV is bad……but are they such intolerable parenting that we would coercively interject the state into family life because of them? People are rightly cautious about state intervention into private family life. Given the number of adults in this country who are obese, I don’t see a strong consensus emerging that obesity rises to this level, and predict that this advocacy effort has about zero chance of getting traction. If anything, it might inspire quite a backlash. One might argue that there are (rare) obesity cases that require state intervention (e.g. force feeding or failure to provide proximally life-saving medical care), but I suspect these cases already would come into child welfare under existing abuse or medical neglect definitions and don’t need any new broadening of the net. I think everybody including the advocates would agree that most childhood obesity cases are candidates for offering voluntary behavioral health services, which sounds more like a job for primary care than for child welfare. MC

Well, this seems like the latest in a long string of advocates who want to appropriate the child welfare system in the service of their particular social, political or health agenda. The agendas sometimes are good ones and sometimes not, but regardless, the question is, “is there strong public consensus that the parenting is so reprehensible, that the state should step into private family life and (coercively) intervene up to and including taking children away from their parents or terminating rights?” IMO, child abuse is ultimately a social and political construct, not a medical or psychological one. The fact that something is medically or psychologically bad for children has never been sufficient cause for child welfare intervention. The world is full of things that are bad for children. Watching too much TV or internet is bad for children. Having an alcoholic parent is bad for children. But, by themselves, not currently grounds for child welfare to intrude. We should be especially cautious about child welfare involvement in things where the endangerment involves harms that may occur years or decades down the road, rather than an imminent safety risk. The de facto standard for child welfare intervention is not just things that are bad for children, but things that involve clearly and consensually intolerable, if not corrupt, parenting. We’re talking about parenting that would evoke such a broad public intolerance that legislatures will write it into the law as legitimizing coercion if necessary. Many advocates over the years have tried to push their way under this legal and policy umbrella and failed. Let’s review some of the failed past and current attempts to make something into child abuse. I’m not endorsing these—simply recounting some history: a) not placing children in car seats should be child abuse; 2) circumcision should be child abuse; 3) spanking should be child abuse; 4)failure to vaccinate should be child abuse; 5) growing up in a polygamous household should be child abuse; 6) having gay parents should be child abuse; 7) second-hand smoke should be child abuse; and the one that has taken deepest root, but is still quite controversial, 8) witnessing domestic violence should be child abuse. No argument from me that car seats are good, that vaccination is a public health revolution, that smoking is a health hazard, or that seeing DV is bad……but are they such intolerable parenting that we would coercively interject the state into family life because of them? People are rightly cautious about state intervention into private family life. Given the number of adults in this country who are obese, I don’t see a strong consensus emerging that obesity rises to this level, and predict that this advocacy effort has about zero chance of getting traction. If anything, it might inspire quite a backlash. One might argue that there are (rare) obesity cases that require state intervention (e.g. force feeding or failure to provide proximally life-saving medical care), but I suspect these cases already would come into child welfare under existing abuse or medical neglect definitions and don’t need any new broadening of the net. I think everybody including the advocates would agree that most childhood obesity cases are candidates for offering voluntary behavioral health services, which sounds more like a job for primary care than for child welfare. MC