The Arkansas Republican state representative who “re-homed” his adopted daughters to a man who raped one of them claims that he and his wife are also victims in this situation and that they only did what they did to avoid being charged with abandonment by the state Department of Human Services.
According to David Badash at the New Civil Rights Movement, Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork, Arkansas released a statement Thursday through his attorneys that claimed that he and his wife Marsha are the victims of “a severe injustice.”
“Rep. and Mrs. Harris have suffered a severe injustice. Due to threats of possible abandonment charges, they were unable to reach out to DHS for help with children who presented a serious risk of harm to other children in their home. Upon the advice of both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician, they were forced to move the children to the home of trusted friends, who had a lot of experience with children with reactive attachment disorder. Rep. and Mrs. Harris are devastated about the outcome of that decision, but faced with no good option, they did the best that they knew how,” said the statement.
In the fall of 2012, Marsha and Justin Harris took in two sisters from the state foster care system. In March of 2013, the couple formally adopted the two girls. Within six months, the Harrises handed the two girls over to Eric and Stacey Francis, without ever consulting the DHS or any other state agency.
Eric Francis raped the elder of the two girls — she was 6 years old at the time — in January of 2014. The Francis family then gave the two girls two a third family, which was where the DHS finally found the children when they attempted to locate them in 2014.
Harris — who is accused of continuing to take state money intended for the girls’ care even after he had given them away — has been avoiding the press, but when KATV News caught up with him outside a committee meeting, he said, “I have a wife and three boys at home, I’ve gotten death threats. The truth is going to come out.”
The lawmaker agreed to do an interview with the TV station later on Thursday to tell his side of the story, but then didn’t show up. According to KATV, Harris was meeting instead with a PR firm.
The DHS told the Arkansas Times that there are many resources available to families who adopt children who have special needs. Spokeswoman Amy Webb told the Times that DHS “can intervene in a number of ways — do they need respite on the weekends? Does the kid really need some inpatient psych services, or additional therapy?”
Webb explained, “If none of that works, then they can come to us and say, ‘We have exhausted all of our available resources. Please, help us. We cannot take care of this child.’ And we will take that child back into custody if the family has exhausted all available resources, and we will do that without any repercussions for the family.”
It does not appear that Harris or his wife ever approached DHS about the difficulties they may have had with the two girls, who were placed in foster care after the older girl was sexually abused by a biological relative.
Harris recently made headlines for attempting to cut off access to all government services for anyone who is unable to prove that they are a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant. The legislator and his wife run a Christian pre-kindergarten school called Growing God’s Kingdom Preschool which receives around $900,000 per year from the government to educate the children of undocumented immigrants and prepare them to enter public school.
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