Toddler Snatched By Social Workers For Not Eating Junk Food
December 3rd, 2009
By Chris Brooke
Like many toddlers, Zak Hessey was a fussy eater who refused his mother’s healthy home cooking.
Concerned about his falling weight, his parents sought the advice of doctors. That simple act triggered a shocking chain of events that led to the youngster being put into foster care for four months.
Paul and Lisa Hessey believe in the long-term benefits of healthy eating and rejected advice to feed their two-year-old son high-calorie snack food such as chocolate, crisps and cakes.
To their horror, social workers put Zak into foster care ‘to assess his needs’ and allegedly threatened the couple with the loss of their parental rights if they fought the decision in court.
‘I was absolutely devastated, I broke down in tears,’ recalled Mrs Hessey, 48. ‘I was scared out of my wits. I phoned Paul to tell him and he just broke down on the phone.’
But they went to court and, after four months, Zak returned home with the blessing of social services, who accepted he had good and caring parents.
Zak is now putting on some weight, but his eating problems were not cured by his time in the care of ‘experts’ and, much to the annoyance of his parents, he has acquired a taste for junk food.
Mrs Hessey, of Bolsover, near Chesterfield, said: ‘I thought I was doing the right thing going to the best people for advice when Zak began to lose weight.
‘Instead they basically accused me of neglecting him and implied it was all my fault. I have four other children and they are perfectly healthy, it was just that Zak was refusing food for some reason. They said I should just feed Zak chocolate, cakes and junk food just to get calories into him. But I objected, saying that was only a short-term answer and not a proper solution.
‘The Government and doctors are always drumming into parents the importance of healthy eating – yet they were telling us to feed Zak all the wrong things.
‘That is obviously what they were doing when he was in foster care so now it is hard to get him to eat anything else.’
Mrs Hessey and her 48-year-old husband, a lorry driver, took Zak to see a paediatrician at Chesterfield Royal Hospital in July. He was 20 months old and weighed 1st 3lb.
Mrs Hessey, whose four other children are under ten, said she was happy for Zak to be admitted for a two-week hospital assessment and was hit by a thunderbolt when she went to collect him on July 24.
She was taken into a room with a nurse and social worker who apparently told her: ‘We would like Zak to go into foster care to assess how he feeds. You have legal rights but be warned if you oppose this we will go straight to court and have all your parental rights taken away.’
Mrs Hessey said: ‘They kept saying, “If you love Zak and you want the best for him then you’ll agree to this”. They said we had been negative about eating. That was because they had been telling us we should feed Zak crisps, chocolate and cakes to get calories into him.
‘I was questioning that approach. We eat proper home-made food at our house and just have chocolate and cakes as a treat.’
She agreed to Zak going into care after hearing to the possible repercussions if she objected. Initially she and her husband couldn’t see Zak for six days.
After hiring a solicitor, they were allowed three hours a day with him during the week in the company of a social worker.
The first hearing before the family court in Derby was on September 2 and the case was adjourned for two weeks. Interim care orders were imposed and Zak returned home following a third court hearing on November 18. By this stage social workers had lifted their objections – and he had put on only 1lb.
Mrs Hessey said: ‘Social services did a complete about turn. They admitted that in foster care Zak was exactly the same with his food as he was at home.
‘They said we were very good parents. I still find it hard to come to terms with how we have been treated.’ Derbyshire County Council said: ‘We only take a child into our care either with the consent of the parents or following very careful consideration by a court.’
A spokesman for Chesterfield Royal Hospital said: ‘While we understand Mr and Mrs Hessey’s distress, Zak’s welfare was paramount and we believe we acted in his best interest.’