' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Justin Harris--and another sad story of an adoption that shouldn't have been

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Justin Harris--and another sad story of an adoption that shouldn't have been

The Harrises and the three kids they kept
The Harris family at Christmas
Sad and horrific stories--like what happened Selma 50 years ago--can effect change. And perhaps the latest re-homing scandal will dampen the enthusiasm for the Christian push to spread god's word by multiplying the faithful, however that is done--by birth or adoption.

We refer to the god-awful mess swirling around the Rep. Justin Harris of Arkansas. In 2013 he and his wife Marsha rehomed two sisters aged three and six they had adopted from the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), placing them with Stacey and Eric Francis--a former employee of their Christian pre-kindergarten, Growing God's Kingdom.
Within six months, Eric Francis raped the oldest girl. The Francis' had three children whom they had adopted internationally. The Francis' then handed the girls off to another family.

It all came to light because an unidentified caller contacted with the state's maltreatment hotline last March, and related that the girls had been moved from one house to another without seemingly any state supervision--and that the Harris' continued to receive an adoption subsidy from DHS. When the girls were interviewed, the six-year-old disclosed the abuse.

In a press conference Friday, Harris told his side of the story: He stated that he and his wife Marsha wanted to adopt two girls to fulfill their goal of having five children--they already had three biological sons but were unable to have more. How to solve that? Why, adopt of course! They found two sisters who had been removed from their biological home due to abuse, but DHS told them they had to take the girls' older sister as well. The Harrises knew of abuse and that the girls were troubled, but both he and his wife, he said, have degrees in child development, and thought they were up to the task. They brought all the girls home. Harris, his voice breaking now and then, said the older girl was severely disturbed, threatening to kill everyone in the family. She was collecting rocks and other implements to do so. Before the adoptions were completed, DHS removed the girl and placed her in a treatment facility. The adoptions of the other two went ahead, and were finalized in March of 2013.

Yet while the Harrises tweeted and posted pictures of their newly enlarged happy family on Facebook, not all was well. In a little reported quote, Harris told a reporter from Arkansas Online: "When our adoption became final, we went to the court, the whole family, exchanged teddy bears and everything--and it was like a light bulb suddenly flipped on for the girls. They knew, suddenly knew, that this was their forever home, and they were no longer ever gong back to Mom's house. There was anger and an instant behavior change."

Oh, no matter that there had been abuse in their own family, the idea of losing "Mom" was not what they wanted or expected. Harris took them to counseling, but their bad behavior remained the same.

By September the girls were gone. The Harrises, owners of a Christian pre-school, Growing God's Kingdom, handed them off to a former employee, Eric Francis and his wife, Stacy, who already had three children adopted internationally. Francis had already been fired for missing work by that time. But his credentials otherwise? Impeccable, according to Justin Harris. Francis was also a youth pastor at a church and had worked in early childhood education. And besides--he and his wife already had three adopted children internationally...surely they had been checked and approved, right, by some other agency? And of course they would know how to deal with children who were having trouble adapting to a new "forever family."

State Rep. Justin Harris
State Rep. Justin Harris
Harris admitted he received money from the Department of Human Services (DHS) after the girls left his home, but insisted he forwarded the checks to the Francises. The Harrises claimed the two girls threatened their sons. It is probable that the girls behaved in a sexual way towards the boys, because children who have been sexually abused--as it turns out, both the older girls had been in their in their biological home--often respond by acting out inappropriately.Harris initially claimed to be the victim in all this. In a statement released by their lawyer, they couple claimed they were unable to reach out to DHS for help because of possible abandonment charges, also stating: "Upon the advice of both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician, they were forced to move the children to the home of trusted friends, who had a lot of experience with children with reactive attachment disorder."

Trusted friends? Eric Francis had already been fired from the Growing God's Kingdom after a couple of months for not showing up. When the story of the rape by Francis first broke, however, Harris told the papers he was "devastated and sickened," but it appeared, he was devastated and sickened only because Eric Francis had once been an employee of his Christian pre-school. He had neglected to disclose that he, Harris, was the girl's legal father.

Francis has since been sentenced to 40 years in prison in a plea deal; we don't know what has happened to the three other children he and his wife, Stacey, adopted internationally, but certainly there is a story there. The two girls adopted by the Harrises remain with the third family, and apparently will be adopted by them. The eldest girl is also with a different family, and that appears to be working also.

Before the story hit the news, Harris claimed they reached out to DHS for help but received none. Instead he stated that someone at DHS (whom he did not name) told them that if they tried to return the girls, he and his wife could be charged with child abandonment.

This stretches credibility. Assuming that a DHS worker had mentioned child abandonment, Harris could have sought advice from an attorney--he's not unfamiliar with the legal system, he's a member of the Arkansas state legislature. When he sent the girls to the Francises he had an attorney draw up guardianship papers--couldn't he ask him? It doesn't take a PhD to know that seeking help from a public agency is not child abandonment, but that passing the children on to a former employee could be construed as such.

The initial story broke in the Arkansas Times in a piece by Benji Hardy that revealed the awful travail of the girls. But it's the Harrises version that the world knows that makes him and his wife such a hypocritical pile. Most of the legislation he is passionate about centers around good Christian principles, such as making abortions harder to get, and making sure that schools don't punish children for religious expression. Like being sent to detention for saying "god bless you" after someone sneezes. He decries federal and state aid for undocumented children, but his business operates on a budget of $900,000, all but about 6 percent coming from state and federal dollars in a program aimed at poor and developmentally disabled children. While he is down on government-spending, he's dipping into the barrel himself for covering his mortgage on the building, rent payments the school makes to the Harrises for having the school in their building. Yes, you got they right--they own the building and their school pays rent to them. Clearly a legal shenanigan to, you know, grow god's kingdom. The hypocrisy here reaches stench levels.

Certainly there is more to come on this story, but given that religious right, as well as the liberal left, has been so enthusiastic about adopting all those poor orphaned babies all over the world--when in reality many of them are not orphans at all, but only temporarily separated from their families--more of this is likely to happen. Justin and Marsha Harris bought into this concept, and adopted because they wanted a family of five. True, they looked to older children here in America who were in need of a stable and safe home; but the children were old enough to not want a new "forever family" as decreed by the courts.

We don't know the specifics of what happened in their biological family, other than there was sexual abuse. By Justin Harris' own admission, the girls were extremely upset when they realized they were losing their own mother for good. Perhaps if the "adoption" had been something other than one with the hard ring of finality that cut them off from their natural mother, the problems they had might have abated. A legal guardianship with frequent visitation from their natural mother, if possible? We don't know much about her, but we do know that her daughters did not want to lose her.

It is likely that the DHS in Arkansas is underfunded and overworked; still the Harrises took the easy way out because they found a family who already had three children adopted internationally. One story related that the Francises were already in the market for more children--and here were two more that came without the trouble of an overseas adoption. Since they don's appear to be wealthy people, we wonder how they financed those adoptions. With money collected in church, from friends, from all those willing to support the nebulous "good thing" that adoption is? Likely. The whole story is one of how adoption fervor today can go off the rails, and the children pay the price.--lorraine and jane
'Re-homed' by legislator, girl, 6, sexually assaulted

Rep Harris' press conference 3/6/15

A child left unprotected

Update: Rep Justin Harris releases statement about 're-homing' daughters

'Re-homing': Dumping unwanted adopted kids
Joyce Maynard's adoption "disruption"

The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption
by Kathryn Joyce
"an important voice for adoption reform and should be read by those who shape adoption policy and those considering adopting from abroad or donating to an international adoption agency or foreign orphanage. It's laden with facts and figures, but is never dull. FMF highly recommends The Child Catchers."--jane from 
The Child Catchers exposes the stench of international adoption--and domestic adoption too


  1. There are numerous reports coming out that basically are saying that Harris is LYING THROUGH HIS TEETH regarding the girls, their behaviors and all these attempts to deflect the blame he holds for his part in this horrible story.

    The former foster mother of the girls, the home they were in for two years and the last foster home they were in prior to being placed in the Harris home, has spoken out and said that the girls were nothing at all like Harris claimed. And if the girls were reacting negatively to life in the Harris home, then the blame should be put on the Harris fam themselves and not the girls because neither one of the girls posed any danger to anyone.

    It should also be noted that social workers, the girls' GAL and numerous other professionals who were in charge of the girls' case plan were AGAINST the Harris couple adopting them. Said the Harris home was not equipped to handle the girls' high needs. Some have said Harris used his political pull to rush their placement and adoption into his home. Everyone involved with the girls' was against Harris taking them in and adopting them, but somehow this creep managed to not only get them into his home ASAP, he rushed the adoption through after dumping the 3rd sibling.

    It is also very telling that he was so quick to take in these girls, adopt them and flaunt pictures with them all over during election time but once re-elected, dumped them with whomever was willing to take them and suddenly pictures with the girls disappeared.

    One can only speculate what life was like for those girls in such an uptight overly religious home. The girls were nothing but political pawns to this creep.

  2. I'm so glad you covered this story. Yes, I was sent off the rails when I learned that the Harris couple were trying to present themselves as victims.

  3. anti- sex trafficking and anti-slavery (ie., forced labor) are the main focus of Soroptimist of the Americas, and in recent years the focus has been increasingly more on what is happening domestically. yet i was not aware of the re-homing of adoptees and the surrounding issues/opportunities for exploitation. i will definitely bring this up to my club and region and i encourage others to do the same, whether or not you are a Soroptimist member i'm sure that your local club would share this concern and be interested in what you have to say. if you are an activist, consider speaking at Soroptimist meetings. just an idea. thanks for increasing my awareness. :)

  4. Like Robin, glad to see this story getting lots of coverage. It is really getting out into the wider world. Here is what appeared on Metafilter, check out the links, lots of people are talking about this one. Poor kids, I hope they are finally safe and not subjected to further cruelty and false therapy. It just goes on and on. What should happen to Mr. Harris is not printable!

    1. This is my comment on Metafilter. You have to be a member to comment, it
      costs five dollars, a one-time fee mostly to keep spammers away. My
      husband and I have been members for years. It has a wide readership.


      I wrote:The word "rehoming" and the hideous practice has been well known
      in the adoption reform world for some time. It is heartening to see this
      ugly term and practice getting out to the general public and creating
      some outrage, instead of the usual sentimental reaction to anyone
      adopting and "saving"a poor little orphan for God.

      Our whole adoption and foster care system is badly broken and
      money-driven, domestic and international. Children are just the product,
      so it makes some warped sense that an inferior product can be returned
      to the seller, or passed on to somebody else. The current fundamentalist
      Christian push for "Orphan Care" has exacerbated an already bad
      situation, with families who already have enough children, adopted or
      biological, urged to take more and "God will provide" regardless of the
      special needs and serious issues these children are already struggling
      with, or the lack of ability of the naive adoptive parents to deal
      realistically with taking on more than they could ever successfully handle

      Many of these families believe in corporal punishment and overly strict
      standards of obedience, and live isolated lives off the grid with home
      schooling and no oversight. This is bound to make things worse for kids
      coming out of chaotic and abusive situations like the girls the Harris
      family took in, mostly to make a nice photo op when he ran for election.
      When they were too much trouble, it was off to whomever wanted them, in
      this case a pedophile. That he tries to excuse this and blame the
      children....well, the mind boggles and the stomach turns.

      This is not an isolated freakish case, but the tip of a very dirty
      iceberg. There are rehoming websites and "therapeutic"ranches where
      unwanted adopted children can be swapped like trading cards, or finally
      warehoused when nobody else will take them. All this flies under the
      radar of child welfare authorities unless something monstrous like
      sexual abuse, slavery, or murder are discovered and the authorities step in.

      It is gratifying to see Metafilter shining a light on this practice, and
      I hope that discussion and disclosure and outrage continues until it can
      be stopped.
      posted by mermayd at 3:47 PM

  5. "Instead he stated that someone at DHS (whom he did not name) told them that if they tried to return the girls, he and his wife could be charged with child abandonment."

    Actually this is accurate to what would happen. Reaching out to DHS for help with something like temporary respite care or obtaining additional therapy is of course perfectly legal, but attempting to *return* a child adopted through the foster system to state care (as this specifies was their intention) does indeed generally result in an abandonment charge.

    I don't have any personal involvement or knowledge about this case in particular, but just speaking in general as someone who works within the system, it is true that attempting to return a child whose adoption from foster care has been finalized is legally considered abandonment in most jurisdictions.

    I am not at all implying their actions were justified - I think they acted reprehensibly - just that particular statement is not a lie.

    Overall very good points!

  6. Good thing. Hope it spreads to other states.
    Arkansas Governor signs adoption law banning "re-homing".

    1. Thanks for the information, Anon. This is a good law. I hope other states pass similar laws.



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