Daniel in the Lion’s Den

Daniel was–is–what some would call a “crack baby.” When Janine, a 42-year-old African-American volunteer at a Manhattan public hospital, first laid eyes on him in the boarder-baby nursery, he was tiny and asymmetrical; at 4 months, he looked like a newborn. Janine started visiting Daniel every day, and when he reached 10 months, brought him home with her and set about formally adopting him. Today, greeting a visitor at the door of his mother’s comfortable home in an unassuming neighborhood in southern Westchester, he is a fine boy of 4, slender but of average height, with shining eyes.

Although Janine learned not to look for failure in Daniel, others dwelled on his drug exposure. The first school she took him to for enrollment saw a black adopted child and asked, “Is he drug-exposed?” Janine claimed she didn’t know. The second, a preschool special education program, proved more problematic. “This school knew, and it was written up in all the evaluations,” says Janine, her voice rising angrily at the recollection. “Everything was related to his history.

“At 2, he could count up to 20. He was beginning to learn how to count in Spanish by the time he was 3. He knew his alphabet. But the school reports were absolutely horrifying. I mean, it wasn’t the same child. According to them, he couldn’t repeat two numbers consecutively, he couldn’t turn the pages of a book, he couldn’t hold a pair of scissors.

“I mean, there was nothing this child could do. And that’s because they knew.”