Should Mom of 555-Pound Boy be Charged with Neglect?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
7/3/2009 10:00 AM   :  1172 comments   :  81,826 Views

Most parents only want to do the right thing and give their children a happy life. But when a child becomes overweight, or even obese, are they no longer doing the right thing? If not, should something be done? A mother in South Carolina has been charged with neglect (and put in jail) for allowing her 14-year old son, Alexander, to reach a dangerous weight of 555 pounds.

Officials say they have given Jerri Gray the chance to help her son and get him treatment, but she has not taken advantage of those opportunities. She says she doesn't have enough money for treatment. Jerri works multiple jobs to make ends meet, and says she doesn't have as much time as she'd like to prepare healthy meals for her son. She also says that sometimes she'd purchase fast food for him when she had to sleep between shifts.

Alex is now in the custody of the Department of Social Services. Jerri admits she's made mistakes. But she wants her son back, and the opportunity for them to learn together how to change their lives and get healthy. Should she be given that chance when her child's life is at risk because of his weight?

This story is heartbreaking to me for a number of reasons. I'm fortunate that I have the knowledge and tools to know what my children should and shouldn't be eating. I'm fortunate that I don't have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, taking me away from them on a daily basis. But not everyone is so lucky. If you grew up in a home where fast food and high fat meals were the norm, you probably didn't learn anything different. It's easy to see how someone could get into a situation where they think they are taking good care of their child, but in reality their choices are doing more harm than good.

On the other hand, this child is not just 50 or even 100 pounds overweight. Alex's weight has reached a level that is very dangerous to his health. It's not clear exactly what officials did months ago to try and help Jerri before the situation reached this point. Was she given access to help? Was she given any tools to start changing his eating habits? Did she just choose not to follow through with it?

In my opinion, a 14-year old child needs his mother. Taking him away from the woman who loves and cares for him is not the solution. The solution is an intensive intervention with the two of them, giving them the education and resources they need to start turning things around. If someone is going to change their lifestyle, they need to learn how to establish new habits and behaviors. If they are given all of this and the mother still refuses to follow through, then I think that's a different story and more drastic measures need to be taken. But for now, I think they should be given the opportunity to change- together.

What do you think?

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  • 1122
    "Taking him away from the woman who loves and cares for him is not the solution." I am a school principal. I see parents everyday that CLAIM to love and care for their children. Sadly they allow their children to be rude, disrespectful and mean. They fail to teach their child any discipline. They fail to show their children that hard work is the key to success and happiness. It doesn't matter if it is academic health, mental health or physical health, some tough love and positive discipline is the BEST thing a parent can give a child!! - 1/27/2013   4:48:39 PM
  • 1121
    I feel the entire public population is partially to blame for allowing this to happen. He should have encountered teacher, counselors, couches and many people in his 14 years that should have intervened. I feel sorry for the boy and his mother who both need help! She must have her own issues that need to be addressed to allow this to happen and I would bet she is obese as well and may not recognize how heavy her son has become.

    All we can do is look around and see if we can assist our family and friends with the same problems! Everyone has a role in this situation. It takes a village! - 1/27/2013   2:44:44 PM
  • 1120
    I don't believe the mother was being malicious by letting her son get that big. I wonder if this mother is big herself. How was the mother raised, was it just getting fast food on the run, or did she sit down and have a meal together with her family. Could it be that the mother though that she was feeding her child she could? If she worked 3 jobs, she was probably exhausted and thought easy and fast food is better than no food at all.

    Does things need to change? Absolutely. I do think its a matter of teaching the whole family about eating healthy.

    When I was going to college, we had a community service project that we went into a middle school and taught families what were healthy food and what was unhealthy. We also taught them about exercising. I was surprised on how many families were uneducated on food and exercising. I guess I took that for granted that every one knows these things. - 1/27/2013   11:54:50 AM
  • 1119
    I don't believe that jail is the answer. At 14 years of age, the boy is able to eat what he wants regardless of what his mother wants him to eat. Counseling and nutritional classes seem like a more reasonable idea. They both need help and it should have been given to them many pounds ago. Social Services is already involved, so why did they wait so long to step in? Are they making progress with the boy's weight and life style now that they are in charge of his life? Jailing an overworked mother just does not seem like a good answer to anything. If she had been given the resources equal to the costs of jail time for her and foster care for the boy, I bet she could have been successful (as long as the boy cooperated.) - 1/26/2013   12:02:17 PM
  • 1118
    This is very sad. I honestly believe the mother needs some therapy. It's not a question of needing education alone. Now that the boy (almost a young man) has been raised like this for his 14 years, he'll need therapy and education, too. There's hope for both. - 1/25/2013   5:08:12 PM
  • 1117
    If this mother were injecting her son with heroine, would you feel the same way? In essence, the situation came to such an extreme, it is the equivalent to the impact of injecting him with heroine. Tough situation but breaking the co-dependency is key in getting the kid help. - 1/25/2013   9:53:31 AM
  • 1954MARG
    A fourteen year old is capable of making meals etc for himself. Nobody gets to a weight of over 500lb by accident. His weight is so high that his life is in immediate danger, so I would think that being separated from his mother for a while is neccessary. He urgently needs medical care and education. His mother needs help as well. If he can be helped to reach a healthy weight range she needs help changing her habits as well and monitoring once he is well enough if he chooses to return to her. - 1/25/2013   8:16:31 AM
    That much weight is a medical issue. The kid should be hospitalized and monitored. He may have an issue with his pituitary gland. Since Mum can't afford it, maybe social services will address this. Sometimes intervention is needed. If it is medical, Mum deserves an apology and to have the charges dropped. - 1/21/2013   12:04:46 PM
  • 1114
    not many people can reach 555 lbs, even trying as hard as possible. i don't think it's his mom's fault. keep mom & son together. - 1/20/2013   1:23:31 PM
  • 1113
    Take them BOTH away to a retreat or camp, etc so they can still bond and learn together! But YES it's her fault and YES it's abuse to both of them! I bet she's not a tiny woman. Sad sad sad story....but soooooo common now. Even people who think they're fat pets are funny and cute...grrrrr....I would remove the tvs, computers, and smartphones first. - 1/18/2013   11:12:43 PM
  • 1112
    I think if we send parents with anger management problems to treatment and then give them their kids back we should at least explore every avenue of treatment for this Mom and her son. Assign her the help she and her family need and monitor them throughout this process. Should she continue to enable her son's obesity from there, then seek criminal charges and take the boy from the home. - 1/14/2013   12:28:10 PM
  • 1111
    I dont believe any parent fails on purpose. Sometimes we don't have the tools we need. Lets send up our positive energy in support of this momma and her bear cub-- we can do this!!!!! We're all learning how to get better and do better. We need the support. - 12/8/2012   10:29:26 PM
    Well, I can just see it before me that the mother will be judged by an overweight judge, and the boy's health problems will be reported by an overweight doctor, and that overweight social workers are involved in this case.
    What I mean is that if it were so simple to prevent yourself or your loved ones from getting obese, society wouldn't be plagued with obesity.
    I agree that a lot of help and intervention and encouragement would be the best thing, However I don't think society is able to offer the support that is really needed for the Jerri's and Alexanders in this world. I wish them and all the others who are struggling the best. - 10/24/2012   1:29:30 PM
  • 1109
    It is a very sad case and something had to be done. I think jailing the Mom was not the answer. It would have been better to make them attend compulsory education on the subject. - 10/12/2012   6:09:41 AM
  • 1108
    This is child endangerment, clear and simple. Like people sentenced to do community service, she should be forced to take nutrition classes with the child. Yes, the child needs his mother, but if she were beating him, would you say the same thing? I'm glad to hear he is on his way to good health. He is somehow getting the education he needs to lead a healthy life. - 10/11/2012   8:09:35 AM
  • 1107
    I don't know when the last time you where in the schools, but healthy habits and nutrition are taught in the classroom. In fact the school lunch system has been changed dramatically over the last few years. The sad thing is, the children are rebelling over it! Check out the latest news reports. True healthy eating choices and an ACTIVE LIFESTYLE needs to start at home. In this instance I am sure there are other issues going on with this young man. I hope he (and his mom) get the help they need.
    Be Healthy and Happy All!
    - 10/3/2012   11:03:21 AM
  • 1106
    It is truly sad that more isn't taught in our schools or even parenting classes on nutrition. Where was everyone when the young man was weighing 200 lbs. I believe that when most people are taught the how's and why's of a good decision they would make them. This will make me think everytime I make a food decision for my grandchildren and myself. - 10/2/2012   1:19:53 PM
  • 1105
    Guessing mom is now twiggy. Just like court mandated drug counseling and treatment, I think mom AND son need court mandated nutrition/fitness/wellness counseling. A case worker has already been assigned to the family, a wellness coordinator should work in tandem to create a healthy environment for the family. THAT would be mom's last chance, IMHO. The proof lies in the choices she makes one she is educated on truly doing better. If she fails in that attempt within a reasonable amount of time, she is a clear and present danger to her child and should lose custody permanently. - 9/26/2012   7:04:07 AM
  • 1104
    12 yrs old 550 plus pounds? Sorry, I have seen a multitude of people who are poor and do not gain that kind of weight. The fact that Family Services have offered help and that she has not taken it, shows lack of proactivity. By the time the boy is nearing 20 he will end up with many illnesses if he isn't already at the brink now. This is not caring or loving your child. The problem has been on going since he was a toddler, perhaps as an infant. I believe the child should not be returned to her until he has lost the weight. - 9/20/2012   6:57:57 AM
  • 1103
    It's hard to judge without being in this woman's shoes. That said, fast food is not that cheap and to buy enough to sustain the calorie count that it must of took to keep his weight that high would have been financially difficult for many people. Some meals are easy to cook and don't take much time and tossing food into a crockpot and letting it cook on low all day would provide a nutrious meal at little cost for several meals. It's good that he has lost alot of weight and I hope the mother gets help learning how to better help her son. Hopefully she has the will to continue on with any help she receives. It's easy to go back to old habits. I feel for them. - 9/19/2012   11:46:53 PM
  • 1102
    I don't think prison is the answer either, but removing the child from the home on a temp basis may give the mom and son a chance to think about making better choices. No clear answer without the facts though. - 9/3/2012   10:46:25 PM
  • ND774748
    I am obese, and my children are obese. I've taken them to nutritionists and changed the food in the house. I've taken them to gyms and encouraged them to get more active, and it has helped. That said, I can't imagine either one of my children reaching his weight without having an intervention and probably a breakdown. His weight gain didn't happen overnight, but it will affect him the rest of his life. I think the removal from the home is unusual, but appropriate in this case. His mother isn't making the proper choices in this situation, so it's in his best interests to be removed, until she is willing to take personal responsibility for helping improve his health. I grew up in a single family home and work long hours, so I can relate to not being home a lot. But, there are small changes she can make. She could take daily walks with him, remove sedentary activities from the home, encourage him to drink water, and keep bags of apples, pears and frozen vegetagles for snacks. These kinds of changes would send the message that she values his health, and they are not expensive. Bottom line, I hope they both get the resources to improve their health. - 8/15/2012   4:42:15 PM
  • QUELZ15
    We should not judge. I know that we don't know what was and is going on in this lady's head. Pray for her and the son also - 8/15/2012   10:33:02 AM
    This story made me very could a person allow their child to become this overweight...? I'm sorry but I don't buy for one second this woman needs "Education"...what she's done is child abuse, plain and simple.

    It would be interesting to know what weight she is your commentary said, this isn't a child who is mildly overweight this is a kid that would shock 99.99% of the people in my country if we saw him...

    555 pounds??!!?!?

    This woman has neglected her son - there is no doubt about it.

    This kid is going to have to lose at least 400 pounds to be a normal size...think about's truly shocking to me...
    - 8/11/2012   6:51:24 PM
  • 1098
    Law reform and social justice. Where is the father in all this? The father has a responsibility also. Maybe if he was in the picture, the mother would not have to work outside of the home so often, and there could be a more stable environment for the son. Too often fathers are given a pass in support. If the laws backed up personal responsibility more often, families would suffer less, and there could be more opportunities for better choices. - 7/13/2012   1:17:55 AM
  • 1097
    I think he shouldn't have been taken away from Mom, unless she actually did not take their help previously. - 6/26/2012   4:31:35 PM
  • STELLA12408
    If he is old enough to be home alone, he is old enough to start learning how to cook. OR mom needs to make meals in bulk, portion them out, and he can just microwave them. This is very sad and there is no excuse. The amount of calories this child needs to consume just to maintain his wait is astronomical! let alone to continue gaining more. An intervention is needed and mom needs a wake up call! It angers me to see such ignorance. Stop making excuses mom and start making changes. - 6/22/2012   1:39:50 PM
  • 1095
    Sadly it sounds like she is a victim of poverty, sadly this story is not the only one. In an economy where a bag of greasy potato chips is half the price of a bag of apples, it is hard to judge someone for the choices that they make. Secondly if she is poor enough to be working two jobs she has probably had some kind of social service assistant along the way. The doctor, social service worker, and anyone else in authority that new of this childs health issues could have and should have done something several hundred pounds ago. What she did was absolutely neglect but jail time is not the answer. Education, therapy, nutritionists. There are so many more helpful answers to this problem. Jail is going to make the mother resentful and the child depressed(which will likely cause binge eating) - 6/17/2012   9:04:54 AM
  • 1094
    Time for some massive mental health therapy! If she doesn't have time to cook for him because she has to hold down so many jobs, chances are that he's been totally ignored and is overeat ing for emotional reasons, including boredom.

    Such a sad situation for all involved! - 6/12/2012   12:28:45 PM
  • 1093
    Time for some massive mental health therapy! If she doesn't have time to cook for him because she has to hold down so many jobs, chances are that he's been totally ignored and is overeat ing for emotional reasons, including boredom.

    Such a sad situation for all involved! - 6/12/2012   12:28:44 PM
    This is a very sad situation. I feel for the mother and son. I cannot help but wonder what type of intervention was provided to help this mother learn how to feed her son. Certainly, the child needs to be protected, but I fail to see what good was accomplished by placing the mother in jail and removing this child from the home. No easy answers here! - 6/6/2012   12:03:50 AM
  • 1091
    I think it is up to the parents to keep their kids eating and exercising well but I don't think jail is the answer. Now that she is on track I hope she gets her son back and that they can make some positive changes together. It is horrendous that a parent could let that kind of obesity in a child happen but lets hope they both get the help they need. - 6/5/2012   4:38:41 PM
  • 1090
    I believe the mother loves her son very much. Both of them need help and it is not just in the physical aspect but also the spiritual aspect. - 6/1/2012   8:44:18 AM
  • VTVIXEN469
    Mom has lost 60 pounds too. - 5/21/2012   3:56:22 PM
  • VTVIXEN469
    There is an update to this story. Google Alex Draper update.

    He has lost over 250 pounds, is looking forward to graduation and works out almost every day. It sounds like the situation damaged his relationship with his mother. - 5/21/2012   3:56:20 PM
  • VTVIXEN469
    There is an update to this story. Google Alex Draper update.

    He has lost over 250 pounds, is looking forward to graduation and works out almost every day. It sounds like the situation damaged his relationship with his mother. - 5/21/2012   3:56:16 PM
  • VTVIXEN469
    There is an update to this story. Google Alex Draper update.

    He has lost over 250 pounds, is looking forward to graduation and works out almost every day. It sounds like the situation damaged his relationship with his mother. - 5/21/2012   3:56:16 PM
  • 1085
    There isnt an easy answer! - 5/17/2012   12:12:57 AM
  • 1084
    Jail does not seem like the answer. Get them both help! There has to be not only county or city resources, but what about neighbors or church members. A great way to make new friends and care for one another. - 5/15/2012   8:36:32 PM
  • EN10011
    These are good excuses. One can make two healthy meals, divide them in portions and have them for the week. They don't have to be expensive. Beans/lentils, brown rice from a discount store and frozen veggies are cheap. She clearly does not cook and has no time to supervise him. She is endangering this kid's life.
    For all those who say that the state should step in, I bet that they have already tried this without success. And I am certain that all the possibloe medical etiologies have been rulet out. You have to do that before accusing the parent of neglect.

    I am a pediatrician for a big hospital. We have a weight management program that is amazingly well organized. We have social workers and nutritionists just for that program. We offer a free 6 month membership to the different local Ys for a kid AND one adult with a trainer. We make weekly visits and daily phone calls to the families most in need. LOTS of resources. Out of those families we try to help, about 20 % do great, about 60% stay where they were without improvement but no further gains either, and about 20% just keep going up, because they have no will to make things better. This kid should stay in a healthy environment for at least 6 months and then the family should reunite with intensive counseling.
    And by the way, as the article says, most parents want to do the right thing, but unfortunately not all. - 5/14/2012   10:34:29 AM
  • TNELLY37
    I think that Social Services are wasting their time. Why don't they go after parents are beating up their children, or burning them with cigarettes? Sure, it isn't good that the child weighs over 500 lbs. but the mom is poor, and doesn't have the resources to buy nutritious food. - 4/28/2012   2:32:05 AM
  • 1081
    I feel sorry for her situation, however authorities had to do something this boy is on track to die! If it were drugs, alcohol, etc we would expect them to step in- eating so horribly to gain that much weight is just as dangerous! I don't think they should have taken the son away but they did have to take drastic measures to help them both! Taking him away completely makes them both depressed which is even worse. - 4/25/2012   1:04:29 PM
  • 1080
    Do we have all the facts here? Clearly the mom needs help as well. Was she given help by the folk that wanted her jailed? - 4/18/2012   9:29:12 AM
  • 1079
    of course no jail. More help for the family. - 4/17/2012   2:34:07 PM
  • 1078
    Being 14 and taken from your mother who is jailed because of your weight has to be traumatic for the child. Intervention is necessary, but this is not the solution. As intrusive as it may be, both should be under supervision to control what must now be a disease. Treat as you would any other health emergency. Shame on Social Services for doing anything else! - 4/10/2012   9:18:35 PM
    I was wondering how much did the mom weighed. I feel like the childs doctor should have step in not take the mom to jail. My grandchild when she was 5 her mother was letting her eat what she wanted 5 eggs in the morning could eat a can of spegitti in 3 minutes she weighed 130 at the age of 5 her mother took her to the children hospital to be tested. Now she is 10 still a little heavy but her mother packs her lunch for school she takes PE that helps she gets 1 treat a week. My granddaughter know she has choices to make in her diet. - 3/29/2012   11:48:16 AM
  • 1076
    How about the government gives the woman a job with a living wage? That would go a long way toward settling the other issues that keep a healthy outcome from happening. It would be more cost effective in the long run, too. Or maybe it's an election year in South Carolina and we're not really interested in long-term solutions to the problem.
    - 1/14/2012   11:03:05 AM
  • 1075
    This blog being two years old, it does make me wonder where they are at now - and whether he's been helped by that removal from home. And I think this article (
    ) makes a lot of the points I would - that there's too much we don't know. - 12/19/2011   7:43:15 PM
    This reminds me of a similar case of a hundred pound toddler that was removed from her parents and gained more weight on foster care in the care of " expert" nutritionists. Her parents were accused of neglect but the toddler was returned after a few months later. - 12/15/2011   5:35:02 AM
  • 1073
    I see both sides of the story; as a mother you have responsibilities to nurture and care for your children in a way that they live healthfully and completely, but where do we draw the line? -- Is taking your child out for fast food a crime? Of course not, or quite a few people would be in trouble.

    What if you took your children out for fast food every day and they never gained a pound from it (due to fast metabolism, active lifestyle, etc.)? -- is that considered OK compared to this? Because even if it's not showing on the outside as it was here, it's surely not helping anything on the inside.

    I think that if parents are to be charged with neglect, a standard has to be set in place.

    At this point, it's probably safe for the child to have medical attention, where he can get help and learn new healthy habits. Once the mother is educated, I believe she should be able to have another chance at helping her child live in a healthy way. - 11/30/2011   11:36:48 AM

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