Re-homing should be illegal

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 206 views 

A loud public outcry has risen this past week over the revelation that Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork and his spouse, Marsha, after legally adopting two young girls, “gave” these children to another non-related couple to raise.

Such an action is called “Re-Homing.” It’s not illegal. But it sure should be.

This issue of “re-homing,” an awkward word, is the central issue of this tragedy. There was an adoptive child of the Harris’ family, who they sent her to another home to live. There this little girl, under age 10, was sexually abused by an adult male. That is the real tragedy.

Since the story of this “re-homing” broke, there has been a twisted morass, fraught with finger pointing, political threats and pressure, second-hand sources, and strangely the state’s own adoption laws which forbid comment on adoption cases. The central truth to be found in this should be about protecting children.

So how did the Arkansas Department of Human Services at its employees at several different levels, state Rep. Justin Harris, and his wife, Marsha, both as parents and particularly him as a state lawmaker, and possible others even in our court system, fail these small children so badly?

A vocal Conservative lawmaker, Harris is now in his third term representing West Fork, southern Washington County and parts of Crawford County. He is the vice chairman of the House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs committee, a powerful committee which oversees the Department of Human Services budget, rules and regulations.

He alleged twice on Friday, in a public press conference and a 30-minute taped interview with the NBC television affiliate in Little Rock, he feared “DHS would charge him with child abandonment,” if he returned the unruly children to the care of DHS. So not telling DHS or any state or court official, they gave the girls to this other family or re-homed them.

DHS has said between, 2006 and 2013,  that 67 DHS/state adoptions did not work out. These children were returned to DHS custody. Amy Webb, the DHS spokesperson, also said DHS was bound by state law to be silent on adoption matters, and not even to refute inaccuracies in what was being said and written about, by Harris or others.

But let’s keep the focus of all this on the children in this sordid tale that adults, especially the Harris’ keep talking about.

While in the care of this new “re-Homing” family, who were not related to the Harris’, one of the two youngest girls was sexually abused by the husband of this new family. The Harris’ actually adopted three girls, one of whom did not spend as much time in the Harris’ home before she was removed by DHS and into a therapy program for problems of her own.

The abuser, Eric Francis, this past November, pled guilty to sexual child abuse, in Benton County Circuit Court and has been sentenced to 40 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Eric Francis was also a former “Lead Teacher” at the Harris’ federal and state government funded child care center in West Fork, called “Growing God’s Kingdom.” He was not an employee of Harris’ at the time of the abuse.

Two other little girls, no relation to the Harris girls, were also abused by Francis, court records detail. The sexual abuse occurred while the girls were still legally the adoptive daughters of the Harris family. But as the time of the abuse, the Harris’ had “re-homed” these girls to the Francis’ household.

The Harris’ were unable to integrate any of these three girls satisfactorily into their own family. After seven months of counseling, therapy and other discipline the Harris’, sought out and just “gave” the two younger girls to this new family the Francis’ to raise. But harm came to at least one of the girls.

Harris before the press conference on Friday said he and his wife were the “victims” of the awful press coverage of the “re-homing” issue. After hiring both and attorney and a publicist, he quickly changed his tune that to the “real victims were the children.” The Harris family has three boys, born of their own union. They wanted three little girls as they could not have any more children of their own. Harris also twice on Friday continued to tell the press and public, his wife Marsha was abused as a child, hinting that is why they wanted these at-risk children. (The Arkansas Times posted on Saturday a story that calls into question many of the claims and allegations made by Harris at his Friday press conference. Link here for that story.

Harris has, to date, not been charged with any crime. Harris nor his wife have not violated any state law, rules or regulations. The Harris’ are not under any ongoing investigation into the “re-homing” of these two former daughters to another and non-related family. There is no current law, rule or regulation in Arkansas prohibiting such an act of “Re-Homing” ones children.

The sexual abuse only adds to the undue sadness of this entire case and the “Re-Homing” issue at hand. This procedure of “Re-Homing,” is basically finding someone else to raise your children. The parents, either natural or adoptive, just “give” the child away to another family to raise as their own. Sadly, “Re-Homing” was and is going on in Arkansas, according to Amy Webb, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. DHS has nine documented “re-homing” cases occurring in Arkansas.

The Harris’ are no longer the adoptive parent of these two little girls. The girls have been adopted by a third family, according to a DHS spokesperson. It is the fifth home since the birth mother gave up these children. It is sad to know that the Harris family offered up these two little girls to a family, they felt they knew, only to later learn of sexual abuse.

Many, in the public, are calling on Harris to resign as a state Representative. Less than 24-hours after the news of this sad case broke publically, state Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, emerged with a simply two-page bill amending the Arkansas Code of Adoption Procedures to prohibit “private adoption transfers.” The bill will allow for a “transfer” of a child or children to a person who is a relative to the fifth degree of kinship by blood or adoption. The bill also says unless a court of competent jurisdiction orders the transfer; one cannot permanently transfer physical custody of a child to a person who is not a relative.

If this quick-fix bill gets past the same legal system Harris so loathes, it would hopefully prohibit such a sad case as has been reviewed. “Re-homing” without some type of DHS notification or a third-party legal action, even to a relative, may be the best we can do today.

“Re-Homing” to strangers with no third-party assessment is not only a bad idea. It ought to be illegal.