Arkansas representative under fire for rehoming his adopted kids

Arkansas Rep. Justin Harris rehomed two adopted children into the hands of a man who sexually assaulted one of them. Turns out there are few regulations around moving adopted kids to a new home.

Danny Johnston/AP
Rep. Justin T. Harris, R-West Fork, walks in the House chamber at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015.

An Arkansas case is highlighting the need for more post-adoption support services and regulations. 

Arkansas State representative Justin Harris and his wife, who adopted two girls, ages 6 and 3, in 2013, reportedly “rehomed” them to a man who has since been convicted of raping the older girl. In many states there are no laws against rehoming, or moving, an adoptive child with no vetting process required. 

“The truth will come out,” Mr. Harris said to television reporters this week in response to the allegations.

Eric Cameron Francis was arrested in April 2014 by the Arkansas State Police for the rape of a 6-year-old girl police said was in his temporary care. Mr. Francis was sentenced to 40 years in prison, according to media reports.

The ties between Francis and Harris only emerged in news reports this week. Francis had been employed as head teacher at a Christian preschool owned by Harris and his wife, Marsha.

The Arkansas Times, which originally reported the story, wrote that Harris announced on Twitter and Facebook in March 2013 that he had adopted the girls. Reports state the Harris' gave the girls away, first to Francis and his wife, and then to another unnamed family.  

When an adoptive parent gives their adopted child to another home it is known as “rehoming” according to Amy Webb, a DHS spokesperson who spoke to KATV and said that in Arkansas DHS is aware of nine cases of “rehoming” within the last two years.

Adoptive parents are given hours of training, criminal background checks, and in some cases lengthy trial period, but there are no similar safeguards or processes for children who are rehomed. Rehoming, which is largely unregulated, may be executed by a simple power-of-attorney letter or a notarized statement, according to The American Bar Association.

As a parent, I find it hard to decide which is more disturbing, the fact that children are being rehomed without regulation, or that it takes the rape of a young girl to bring this issue to light. It’s hard to imagine any dedicated parent, adoptive or birth, not cringing at this story.

Friends I know who have adopted children were unsurprised by the news of this case. All had heard about children in the foster care system who became deeply emotionally scarred due to rehoming. One couple I know privately adopted a baby rather than go through the foster care system after learning about rehoming.

In light of what has happened to these little girls it's time for all parents, adoptive and birth, to call upon legislators to start digging into these unregulated rehomings. Animal welfare agencies, such as The Animal Humane Society have stricter adoption rules and post-adoptive guidelines than our nation's child welfare agencies. Does our society care no more for the long-term welfare of adopted children than we do for a stray animal? 

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