'Wife Swap' appearance sparks child abuse calls for Iowa family
By Christopher Rocchio, 02/22/2007
An appearance on ABC's Wife Swap reality series almost found an Iowa couple in hot water for child abuse.
Barb and Mike Haigwood -- a couple who raise organic food with their two teenage children on a farm near Massena, IA -- sparked Wife Swap viewers to contact the Iowa Department of Human Services after an episode featuring the family aired on Monday, February 19, The Des Moines Register reported Wednesday.
During the Wife Swap broadcast, the Haigwood children -- 13-year-old Aleesha and 16-year-old Lee -- said they don't go to school and Lee's home schooling includes counting the number of eggs the family's chickens have produced. Barb, the family's 37-year-old mother, also explained that she "believes in eating every two to three hours" -- a belief that causes her to wake the children for late-night drinkings of a beverage containing kefir, a yogurt-like product.
Prior to their Wife Swap appearance, Barb had told The Register that family's decision to eat "nothing but raw food, including eggs and meat" was part of their way of dealing with health problems related to Aleesha's attention deficit disorder.
However The Register reported Iowa state officials do not consider "an unorthodox diet and messy housekeeping" to be child abuse, and added the parents have filed the proper paperwork to home-school their two children. Iowa Department of Human Services spokesman Roger Munns told The Register his department "logged a number of calls" to its child-abuse hotline after the episode aired, and also received "at least 10 messages emailed to its website" as well as a fax.
"DHS only investigates child abuse and neglect cases when there is a credible report that, if proven true, would amount to abuse. None of these reports rise to that threshold," Munns told The Register. "People who eat unusual food and feed it to their children are not abusive, nor are people whose houses are not tidy."
Steve Pelzer, superintendent of the Cumberland and Massena school district, said that -- as the law requires --the Haigwoods have filed paperwork "proving competent private schooling." Pelzer added a licensed teacher from the West Des Moines area "monitors the children's progress."
Bard told The Register on Tuesday that the family could not comment unless reporters "went through ABC's public relations department." A spokesman for ABC could not be reached on Tuesday, according to The Register.