Harris accuses DHS of mishandling adoption crisis

Rep. Justin Harris

(March 6, 2015)

Rep. Justin Harris held a press conference Friday with his wife Marsha to address media reports that he gave his two adopted daughters to another home, one of which was sexually abused in that home. The process known as "rehoming" is legal in the State of Arkansas.

After dodging reporters for two days after the initial report, Harris gave his side of the story Friday, saying that the girls had severe emotional issues that threatened their family. Harris said he initially tried to adopt an older sister of the two girls, but was unable to adopt her because of her issues. They proceeded with adopting the two younger girls.

"We proceeded with the adoption process and in home intensive therapy with the two younger girls, despite on going violence with our boys we believed that if we continued to show love and affection, the situation would turn out ok. We were wrong," said Harris.

Harris said one of the girls was violent toward their family and three biological children. He says the children slept in their parent's room for safety.

"After one of the girls crushed a family pet to death and attempted to abuse two pets, we took both girls to a therapist, and psychiatrist, and a pediatrician. All three professionals recommended that we removed the children from our home," Harris said.

Harris says he continued to support the girls after they were moved to the home of Eric and Stacy Francis by sending every DHS support check they received to the Francis home. He said they did not abandon the girls, but continued to see them, taking them doctor appointments and supporting their needs.

"We also provided all of the girls clothing and material needs even after they were in the Francis's home," said Harris.

During the press conference two serious charges were leveled at DHS. First, that the department did not disclose the child's severe emotional issues with the Harris family prior to the adoption. Second, that after the Harris came to DHS in desperation, a high level official told Rep. Harris that the department would seek abandonment charges against him and his wife if they returned the children to DHS custody.

"We were threatened with that and I believe it. I had no choice, and so that was what we believed. If the head of DHS said that, then that must be law, so we believed it," said Harris.

The head of DHS is Director John Selig. DHS says Selig never had that conversation with Harris but that Harris did consult with other senior officials about his case.

DHS spokesperson Amy Webb says the situation Harris described in the press conference Friday would not have been classified as abandonment.

"If a family is struggling and they have exhausted all resources, they can come to us and we will take those children back into our custody and there will be no repercussions, no abandonment charges, no criminal charges against that family. That is our policy. That's what we tell folks," said Webb.

As far as the first allegation that DHS did not disclose the child's emotional problems, Webb once again could not about the specific case, however, she did point KATV to a document given to all adoptive families which lists the medical and psychological history of the child.

The Harris family is working to release the adoption file in question. KATV has asked the Harris family to identify the person who they allege made the abandonment threat and the witness to that conversation.

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