Fallout from State Seizure of Overweight Child

As public comment whirled around a state’s removal of an overweight child from her parents’ care, the head of the agency in New Mexico responsible for the decision defended their action.

Anamarie Martinez-Regino weighs 120 pounds and is 3½ feet tall — three times heavier and 50 percent taller than an average 3-year-old, according to the girl’s physician, Monika Mahal. The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department took Anamarie last week, after Mahal made the recommendation that she be removed from her parents’ custody.

Deborah Hartz, head of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, said Monday critics commenting on the case don’t have all the facts, but she can’t release the facts because of confidentiality rules governing New Mexico family law cases.

Hartz seeks to reassure families that their children won’t be removed from their homes for being too fat or too thin. She says the most important thing is whether a child is safe in the home.

“Every case where children are not safe is a very special case, a very sad case. The state of New Mexico just wants to be sure that we take every step we can to make sure that every child in New Mexico is safe,” Hartz told Good Morning America today. “I can’t talk about this case specifically, but that is our entire goal.”

Miguel Regino and Adela Martinez, Anamarie’s parents, say they’ve done everything they can to help Anamarie and say the state has unfairly labeled them unfit to care for her.

In the Child’s Best Interest?

The state Children, Youth and Families Department took Anamarie after a doctor said the child’s condition was life-threatening.

“I saw a child being pulled away from the only parents she’s known. The only remembrance she has is them pulling her away and us standing there crying because we felt so useless. We couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t stop them,” Adela Martinez told Good Morning America Monday.

Anamarie’s parents say they’ve done nothing to hurt their daughter and that her obesity is caused by a medical condition but doctors haven’t been able to figure it out.

”I’m going to fight for her,” Martinez said. “What else can I do? She’s my baby. I just have to remember, I’ll get her back someday. I’m just trying to clear my head of the last memory I have of her being pulled kicking and screaming from that room.”

Irene Moody, who is in private practice with Mahal and has examined Anamarie, said Friday the decision was in the best interest of the child.

“I can’t tell you what is causing her to be this large in absolute certainty,” Moody told the Albuquerque Journal. “But we do know that her size is life-threatening.”

Family Will Try to Get Her Back

No state agency or law enforcement office has accused the family of anything improper in the treatment of Anamarie, Martinez said. But the legal papers she received Friday charged the family with not being able to keep the child’s weight down.

“I can’t believe that’s what they’re thinking,” Martinez said. “How can I make her body grow the way it has? It’s back to blaming us.”

Martinez has been told she will be allowed to visit her daughter but doesn’t know when.

“I hope they give me my baby back and at least let me see her. I don’t know how her first night was. I at least want to be able to see her, you know, at least to let her know that I didn’t desert her,” Martinez told Good Morning America on Monday.

A custody hearing has been set for Sept. 5, and her family says they are going to try to get her back.

“They never did a full investigation on us. A home visit should have been done before the child was removed,“ said Anamarie’s father, Miguel Regino. “They asked for names and numbers of family and friends they could check with and see what kinds of parents we were. They never once called anybody, never once tried to check out on us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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