There’s a rea­son peo­ple like me are needed through­out the US — peo­ple will­ing to adopt an older “special-​​needs” child as opposed to a more-​​or-​​less fresh-​​from-​​the-​​package infant.

Special needs is an unfor­tu­nate term to use, though, because of the ram­i­fi­ca­tions asso­ci­ated with the phrase spe­cial edu­ca­tion. The lat­ter gen­er­ally refers to pull­out edu­ca­tional pro­grams intended for developmentally-​​disadvantaged stu­dents, kids with diag­nos­able organic con­di­tions that put them behind their peers, usu­ally both aca­d­e­m­i­cally and socially, and gen­er­ally per­ma­nently. A much less polite term for such kids is retarded.

Special needs kids, though, in the adop­tion world, are basi­cally kids old enough to remem­ber a time before they came to live with their adop­tive parent/​s (with every­thing that implies). There’s often no other con­di­tion they have than this, but it’s enough to cause them to be defined as special-​​needs placements.

They almost cer­tainly have psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional issues, yes; but these are not organic and likely can be over­come with a mix of ther­apy, pos­si­bly some short-​​term meds, and a con­sis­tent, sta­ble and lov­ing home life.

Where do these kids come from? Generally they’re taken from homes that are sim­ply unsuit­able for them. For instance, the young chil­dren of Jessica Botzko, who kept her sons locked into a two-​​by-​​two-​​foot dog cage when they mis­be­haved, and who may have used shock col­lars on them as well. She was sen­tenced to just below the max­i­mum (5 years) this week for her crimes.

Jessica Botzko, 28, apol­o­gized before the sen­tenc­ing, say­ing that her time spent in jail the past six months “has really opened my eyes to the pain I was my caus­ing children.”

I haven’t fol­lowed the case that closely — I didn’t have the stom­ach for it — but I gather that Ms. Botzko is actu­ally get­ting the idea that she did some­thing wrong, and that the state of Ohio made the right deci­sion in plac­ing her chil­dren else­where and in putting her in prison. To me, this feels a lot like progress.

This might not be the case with another mother, Chytoria Graham, who used her four-​​week-​​old son as a weapon in a fight with her boyfriend, swing­ing the boy like a club. The infant’s skull was frac­tured as a result. Her response to her con­vic­tion was not one of regret or reflec­tion; it reads a lot more like self-​​pity. She “fell into the fetal posi­tion“1 and then, appar­ently, into histrionics.

Oh my God,” Graham cried. “Oh my God, Oh my God. No, no, no.”

Yes, yes, yes.2 She faces a manda­tory min­i­mum five years in prison for her actions. Hopefully she’ll have some time to think about what she did, why it was wrong, and maybe even change her life to the point that it won’t hap­pen again.

Of course, given the way prison facil­ity qual­ity has been steadily declin­ing in the US, that might be a for­lorn hope.

But it’s not just kids being vic­tim­ized; some­times they plan to make vic­tims of oth­ers as well. Ms. Graham hails from Pennsylvania; so does the as-​​yet-​​unnamed 14-​​year-​​old boy who was busily accu­mu­lat­ing a weapons cache in his home, appar­ently intent on per­pe­trat­ing some level of violence.

The weapons included a 9mm assault rifle that the teenager’s mother had recently bought for him, Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. said. Prosecutors are review­ing her actions.

Police also found about 30 air-​​powered guns, plus swords, knives, hand grenades, a bomb-​​making book, videos of the 1999 Columbine attack in Colorado and violence-​​filled note­books, Castor said. The weapons were plainly vis­i­ble in the boy’s bed­room, Castor said.

This one is actu­ally a bit harder for me to under­stand than the pre­vi­ous two sto­ries, which have to do mostly with extremely poor responses to stress­ful sit­u­a­tions in arguably-​​unbalanced adults.

But I find it extremely dif­fi­cult to believe that either of the boy’s par­ents could have been so obliv­i­ous that the idea he was assem­bling a stack of “plainly vis­i­ble” weapons, along with what is pre­sum­ably a high-​​powered semi­au­to­matic rifle, didn’t reg­is­ter as at least a small warn­ing sign that maybe the kid had some issues.

I’m sure that par­ent­ing is fraught with all sorts of poten­tial pit­falls. Being over­pro­tec­tive or dom­i­neer­ing is no bet­ter than being lax and dis­con­nected. Finding that cen­ter and walk­ing it all the time will be, with­out doubt, impos­si­ble; I’m sure there’ll be things I over­look and I’m sure I’ll find myself being too author­i­ta­tive from time to time.

But you can be pretty damn sure that if Yoshi ever asks me to buy him a semi­au­to­matic assault-​​style rifle, my answer will be absolute, def­i­nite and unchang­ing. There is no ratio­nal rea­son for a civil­ian adult to have such a weapon. To put one into the hands of a child is not only sense­less, but approach­ing indefensible.


1. It’s tempt­ing to make a snide com­ment on her choice of posi­tions, but I won’t.

2. I real­ize I sound a bit cal­lous here. I am. She was drunk, and she used her own month-​​old child as a weapon in a brawl. It’s hard for me to work up a hell of a lot of sym­pa­thy for her right now.


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