An open letter to West Sussex County Council

This is a copy of an email that I sent to a West Sussex Councillor who is Vice Chair of the Children and Young People’s Services Scrutiny Committee. I wanted to make it available on my website for people to copy and paste should they desire to write their own email or letter.

As you may already be aware, an article regarding the the ruling made in “West Sussex County Council vs A&B” (on the 29th October 2020) was released earlier this week. 
It has caused a lot of upset within the body acceptance community, many of whom have taken a personal interest in this case. We are not just upset about the ruling itself, but the way in which social services appears to have mismanaged this case right from the beginning. 

We believe it demonstrates a basic lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of the professionals involved in this case, which ultimately lead to two minors being removed from their home without just cause. 
I would like to draw your attention to the following:

  1. Weight is NOT a behaviour and it is therefore unfair to use it as a means of measuring whether a person is acting in their child’s best interests. 
  2. According to the government’s Foresight report, weight gain is a complicated issue with a number of influencing factors, most of which are out of our control. 
  3. There are a number of studies that demonstrate how intentional weight loss and weight talk are both predictors for obesity and eating disorders (including one by the American Academy of Paediatrics). By enforcing these measures over the course of 10 years the evidence shows that social services have caused a lot of irreversible damage to these children’s physical and mental wellbeing.
  4. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that prejudice towards people who inhabit bigger bodies influences the decisions of people in positions of authority. We live in a world that equates thinness with virtue, beauty and health. None of these are actually true. As a doctor I can tell you that thinness has very little to do with health. But implicit bias is something that affects all of us and I believe that professionals in positions of authority have a duty to assess their own levels of bias and take active steps to reduce it. This may come in the form of self-reflection, education and/or feedback from others.
  5. You cannot force people to go on a diet against their will.  From the court transcript it appears that both minors were Gillick competent. By insisting that they join weight watchers, visit the gym and wear a fitbit, West Sussex County Council have breached their human rights. We are in contact with a human rights lawyer, and are prepared to fundraise and engage said lawyer on behalf of the family should they so desire. 

I have therefore started a petition and am calling on West Sussex County Council to consider the following:

  1. Ensure that both minors are receiving the proper support that they require whilst in foster care. This includes an immediate end to ALL forms of restriction and intentional weight loss and access to a psychologist with an expertise in disordered eating and childhood trauma. 
  2. Support for the parents of the minors who have endured 10 years of weight stigma by social services which has no doubt impacted their own mental health. 
  3. An enquiry in to the current discriminatory practices that are clearly taking place within West Sussex Department of Child and Family Services. 
  4. A review of the proceedings that were ordered on December 2019 by experts in the field of weight bias and childhood obesity (I would be happy to signpost you to some very qualified dietitians and psychologists in this field and would also be happy to offer my services free of charge).

I understand that West Sussex County Council claim that this was an unusual case and that the ruling took place as a last resort. I can assure you that I have gone through the court transcript with a fine tooth comb and have written a blog post offering my expert opinion. You can read what I have to say on my blog.
You can find my petition at change.org.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes,Dr Natasha Larmie