State authorities have launched an investigation into the Christian day care center operated by an Arkansas Republican who “rehomed” his foster daughters to a sex abuser.
A 3-year-old girl was left alone in a school van for about four hours Wednesday at Growing God’s Kingdom, which is operated by state Rep. Justin Harris and his wife, reported the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Police said the child was strapped into a car seat, and she was conscious and alert when paramedics arrived about 1:30 p.m.
“We’re very blessed that it was a little cooler today and the van was parked in the shade,” said Bryan Watts, chief of West Fork police. “If it had been much warmer, I don’t think she would have survived it.”
Harris said the “bus driver” did not notice the girl was still on the van after other children exited.
The GOP lawmaker said he was “thankful to God” that the weather was cool and cloudy, and he said the girl’s body temperature was 97 degrees when she was discovered.
Police said the van has an alarm in the back, and drivers are supposed to walk back and shut it off after each run to ensure no children are still on board.
The van driver told police she did that but did not see the girl — who was not discovered until school officials began loading the van to take children home.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case, which remains under investigation by police, but the driver has been fired.
Police reported the incident to the Department of Human Services — the same agency that allowed Harris to adopt three girls in 2011 despite concerns by case workers and therapists that the lawmaker and his wife were ill-equipped to care for them.
The girls’ previous foster parents accused Harris of using his political influence to pressure the director of the DHS Division of Children and Family Services to approve the adoption, but the couple returned one of the girls within months due to behavioral problems.
Harris and his wife believed the girls were possessed by demons and had an exorcism performed, according to a babysitters and others — although the couple denies that.
They eventually “rehomed” the girls, ages 5 and 3, in October 2013 to a friend and preschool employee of theirs – Eric Francis – who is now serving a 40-year prison term for abusing one of the couple’s adopted daughters and two other children.
Harris has said won’t seek re-election next year, but a so-called family values organization, the Family Council, honored him last month with its “Power of Courage” award for sponsoring anti-abortion legislation.
The lawmaker issued a statement Wednesday promising to launch and internal review after the girl was left on the preschool van, and he assured parents the day care followed all federal, state and local laws and regulations.
“We take the physical safety of every child in our care very seriously and will take any steps necessary to be sure that all of our children are provided a safe and loving environment to learn,” Harris said.