After abuse case, Arkansas tries to ban 'rehoming' adopted children

Child Welfare
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 3/25/15, 03:14 pm

An Arkansas state representative is facing criticism for allegedly abandoning his adopted daughters, ages 3 and 6, to a man who sexually abused one of them.

The case has sparked state legislation aimed at banning the private transfer of adopted children, often called “rehoming.” Last week the father in the case, Republican Rep. Justin Harris, voted for the ban.

The bill, which unanimously passed the Arkansas House of Representatives last Friday, would make private custody transfers of adopted children a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 dollar fine.

“Basically, what we’re wanting to do is to prohibit a parent from just finding somebody and giving the child away and then not having anything else to do with the child,” said Republican Rep. David Meeks one of the sponsors of the bill.

Harris and his wife adopted the girls in March 2013. Seven months after the adoption was finalized, they sent their daughters to live with Eric and Stacey Francis, longtime family friends. In November 2014, Eric Cameron Francis, 39, pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault in the second degree. One count involved Harris’s older adopted daughter; the other two counts involved underage girls Francis knew through church. Francis was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Harris said his wife and he were shocked to learn of the abuse. Francis worked for Harris for a short time at his family-owned preschool, Growing God’s Kingdom, and their wives had been friends for over 20 years. Harris said Francis and his wife had passed background checks and completed safe home studies while adopting their own three children internationally, so he had no reason to suspect the situation would be harmful to his adopted daughters.

Harris and his wife, Marsha, said they sent the girls to the Francis family because they were a threat to their three older biological children. A psychiatrist, pediatrician, and therapist all recommended the transfer, according to Harris.

“There were life-threatening situations involving the children and their biological children,” said Jennifer Wells, Harris’ attorney. She claims the Department of Human Services (DHS) had not provided the support the Harris family needed to parent the girls, one of whom was previously abused and had significant behavioral issues. Harris claimed in an interview earlier this month that DHS threatened to charge him with child abandonment if he returned the girls to state custody.

Harris still defends the family’s decision to “rehome” the girls, saying that they did what they thought was best for them. “We are heartbroken by this situation,” Harris said in a press conference earlier this month. “We attempted to make the situation work for two years because we cared deeply for the girls. But we were failed by DHS.”

Five other states—Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin—have passed legislation restricting advertising adopted children or transferring custody of adopted children to an unrelated family. The extent of “rehoming” is unclear. The practice is hard to track statistically because, by definition, it is done privately and without state involvement.

In addition to the felony bill, the Arkansas House also passed a bill that would require DHS to create and implement post-adoption support services. Both bills now advance to the state Senate. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has indicated he will sign both bills as written.

Another family has since adopted the two girls. 

Kiley Crossland

Kiley reports on marriage, family, and sexuality for WORLD Digital. Follow Kiley on Twitter @KileyCrossland.

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