Justin Harris comments on adoption report; Speaker Gillam says issue in past tense. We disagree. | Arkansas Blog

Justin Harris comments on adoption report; Speaker Gillam says issue in past tense. We disagree.

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REP. JUSTIN HARRIS: Gave up adopted daughters because of 'behavior change.,' he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
  • REP. JUSTIN HARRIS: Gave up adopted daughters because of 'behavior change.,' he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Rep. Justin Harris
declined multiple opportunities to talk with Benji Hardy in advance of our story about his placement of newly adopted daughters with a man who raped one of them. The article noted that the episode raised questions about the practice of "rehoming" adopted children, a controversial practice nationwide.

The rapist, Eric Francis, was for a time a teacher at Harris' state-financed pre-school, Growing God's Kingdom. He's now serving a 40-year sentence. The children were later adopted by another family who say their situation has stabilized.

Harris  avoided TV reporters at the Capitol yesterday, but Harris did talk by telephone yesterday to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

In explaining why he turned two adopted daughters over to another family after about six months — without availing himself of support offered by the state Human Services Department or rescinding the adoption of  girls who'd been state wards  — Harris said "there was anger and an instant behavior change" after two adopted daughters joined his household.

He told the Democrat-Gazette that he sought counseling for the girls but their behavior did not approve. Reported the Democrat-Gazette:

The Harris family maintained contact with the two sisters and forwarded any money received from the state Department of Human Services for their support to the Francis home, Harris said. The girls seemed to be doing well, he said. The state became involved with the girls while they were still with their natural mother, he said.

"We would have never knowingly put a child in harm's way, and anyone who knows us knows that," Harris said.

Our reporting has drawn a response from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who's said he wants DHS to review the practice of "re-homing."  As it stands, though adoption of children in the state's care is typically a long and extensive process, once a family has made an adoption there's little to prohibit them from placing children in the care of another, including turning them over to another family for adoption without any state review. The practice has been controversial nationwide, as Hardy's article noted. Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville yesterday introduced legislation to make it a crime to re-home a child except to another fancily member.

We hope Justin Harris will re-consider his decision not to talk to us about his experience. There are other questions not reached in his interview with the Democrat-Gazette. Beyond his own family situation, the article raised questions — and prompted many tips — about DHS adoption procedures. Are those procedures rigorously and equally enforced for all prospective parents? Should there be more public accountability for money paid in subsidies to foster and adoptive parents? Until now, DHS has used the  blanket secrecy placed over adoption matters to avoid some specifics in discussions about practices that we think need illumination, whether they apply to a member of the legislature (and vice chair of the committee on children and youth) or anyone else. (DHS spokesman Amy Webb says, fairly that what I wrote originally overlooks some extended general discussions by DHS officials with Times reporters.)

The Democrat-Gazettte article sought opinions from legislators about Harris' status. I think any discussion of that is, at best, premature. But I hope I misread House Speaker Jeremy Gillam's quote:
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House Speaker, Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said there would be no sanctions or repercussions from the legislative body in this case.

"At this time, that situation, as far as we're concerned from the House perspective, is past tense, and we're moving forward and looking at the remainder of our calendar and finishing the month strong," Gillam said.

I agree there's no basis for the House to judge Harris at this moment. But I hope Gillam  doesn't mean he's sweeping away for all time the question of whether Harris' position as a legislator had any influence in the adoption process or its aftermath. I certainly hope he doesn't meant the whole question of rehoming, as illustrated by this case, is not worthy of review.

PS — The nationally popular blog Wonkette takes a look at the fullness of Justin Harris' legislative record. A model of progressively it is not. But that isn't likely to cause him to be unpopular in the Republican-controlled House. 

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