Michael Disporto Jr. has been arrested for raping and brutalizing almost-two-year-old Ariana Smyth, leaving her with injuries doctors say are comparable to being hit by a car. The girl’s mother, Amber Bobo, is arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child after waiting hours to get medical treatment for her after she first noticed the injuries.
It appears Ariana Smyth’s short life ended with rape, brutal physical assault, and her injuries being ignored until she lapsed into a coma. Even people who read a lot of stories about child murders find this one particularly horrible. People are already asking “why?” There are no reports of prior involvement with CPS or the criminal justice system for either Ariana’s mother or her boyfriend, meaning the normal legislative responses of creating a new registry for something or tinkering with some piece of CPS aren’t likely to work. What will work is preventing the trauma and abuse by helping parents.
At least 1,500 children die directly from child abuse each year. Roughly a quarter of them are killed by their mother’s’ partner, a quarter by the mother and her partner together, and a quarter are killed by the mother alone.
The most common reason for a mother to form a relationship with someone monstrous enough to rape and kill a baby is because that partner fulfills her emotional and/or material needs. We want to say that a “good mother” would sacrifice her needs for her child’s. This is the ideal; it’s not always plausible, especially with desperate mothers. Maternal Home Visiting programs keep mothers from getting quite so desperate.
What’s a “desperate” mother? Every mother attending to a howling, inconsolable baby at 3AM feels desperate. However, there is a lot of science that identifies whether or not a mother (or father, grandparent, or whoever else is going to be raising the child) is likely to abuse, neglect or maltreat her child, and it starts with taking this questionnaire. In a perfect world, a mother or family with a score greater than 25 will be offered participation in a maternal home visiting program. Sadly, nationally, there are only seats for about one in every twenty of eligible families. Meaning nineteen in every twenty children grow up at risk.
Our society i reactionary not preventative. We save dollars, we balance the budget and then we shell out millions on investigating and prosecuting sadistic murders like this. The difference is that, by then, a child has been murdered; and children like Ariana Smyth are being maltreated, and murdered every day in America.
If Amber Bobo, the mother, had had access to a Maternal Home Visiting program this is how it would have protected Ariana:
—– They would have made her more self-sufficient. By providing mothers with intensive emotional support and the tools for economic self-sufficiency, participating mothers are more likely to make better decisions. They also facilitate mother-child bonding, which can be drastically impaired by a mother’s stressors. Mothers who bond properly with their babies are more likely to sacrifice their own material and emotional needs in favor of their children’s.
—–They would have increased her parenting skills and knowledge. Amber was apparently living with a man she had been dating two weeks. This is unwise, as is letting someone you have only known two weeks have “alone time” with a child, particularly when they ask for it. A home visitor can educate a mother about the risks in this situation, and also can educate mothers about child sexual abuse in general. In Ariana’s case, it appears her mother disregarded some glaring injuries and took a baby who was going into shock shopping. A mother who is poorly bonded to a baby or has a poor understanding of child development won’t notice signs of illness or injury as quickly as one who does, and a mother who has someone they trust to answer questions about baby health may ask them, and may heed the answers.
—– They could have assessed for domestic violence/ coercive control. Sometimes coercive control or outright violence is involved in a mother’s decision to stay with someone who abuses her child. Even when a batterer doesn’t directly harm a child, exposure to domestic violence is an Adverse Childhood Experience that the child must be protected from. And when domestic violence is an issue, The Quincy Solution, a group of best practices that prevent domestic violence crime in a community, is the piece of public policy that fixes the problem.
Right now, a family, a community, and many strangers are all grieving at the loss of precious little Ariana. They are wondering how this happened, and how we can prevent it from happening again. The answers are in front of us; they have been for decades. We can do better than hope that maybe this will be the murder so shocking it spurs us into action. We can take action now.
Ariana Smyth would be alive today if we had taken action to protect her by helping her mother. She isn’t.
Executive Director, Stop Abuse Campaign
A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences. Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.