Allegations of wrongdoing continue to pile up against Arkansas Republican state Rep. Justin Harris, who adopted two girls out of the foster system, then “re-homed” them with a man who raped one of them when the girls became too difficult to care for.
According to the Arkansas Times blog, Harris violated state Department of Human Services (DHS) regulations by featuring one of the girls in a campaign ad when he ran for his state house seat.
Arkansas DHS policy strictly prohibits any activity that would compromise a foster child’s anonymity. Harris used the photograph of the girl when she was still a ward of the foster system.
The Times reported that the girl in the ad was the eldest of the three deeply troubled sisters who the Harrises took into their home in the fall of 2012. In order to clearly tell the girls’ story, the newspaper re-named the eldest girl Jeannette, the middle girl Mary and youngest Annie. The Times identified the girl in the photo as Jeannette, whom the Harrises never adopted, but sent on to another foster home.
DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb told the Times that she could not comment on the Harris campaign ad directly, “If we were made aware of a situation like you described, we would immediately call the foster or pre-adoptive parent and tell him to discontinue using the picture on any campaign material. We would not be comfortable with a foster child’s picture being used during a campaign. [DHS’s Office of Policy and Legal Services, which according to department rules, has to approve public use of any media featuring a foster child] would not agree to that either.”
Numerous sources have come forward and decried the appallingly botched adoption, which Harris and his wife Marsha reportedly pushed for over the objections of the girls’ previous foster parents, child care professionals and DHS officials. Harris reportedly threatened to cut the DHS budget if his family didn’t get to adopt the girls in spite of the fact that he and his wife were repeatedly warned that the sisters were special needs children who would require intense counseling and other forms of therapy in order to adapt to a new home.
“The problem was simple hubris,” said a foster mother who worked with the girls. “He saw it as, ‘I’m with God. God’s going to solve this.’”
The Harrises have stringently denied any wrongdoing in the case. In an emotional press conference with their attorney last week, they blasted the DHS and the media and insisted that they are being unfairly blamed for the rape of the middle sister by Eric Francis after the Harrises handed the girls over to Francis and his wife Stacey.
They issued a public statement in which they insisted “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.”
The DHS vehemently disputes the Harrises’ claims, as do multiple witnesses who said that Marsha Harris was convinced that the girls were possessed by demons and could communicate telepathically. The family kept Mary, the middle girl, locked in a room for the bulk of her day with no toys or books, and monitored her with a video camera.
“The first night I was over there, I just broke down and cried with this little girl because I just felt so bad for her,” said babysitter Chelsey Goldsborough.
Marsha Harris had stripped the girl’s holding room of book, toys and colorful clothes “because a demon told [Mary] not to share,” Goldsborough said. “Demons told her to not appreciate [her toys] and all that, so they took away all the toys and her colored clothes.”