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Girls' Foster Parents Not Impressed With Kid-Dumping AR Rep Justin Harris's Sob Story
The bizarre story of Arkansas state Rep. Justin Harris and his decision to "rehome" his two adopted daughters with a family friend and employee, Eric Francis, who later raped one of the girls, continued to unfold in High Weird Mode over the weekend. Following his press conference Friday, Harris gave a 35-minute interview to Drew Petrimoulx of TV station KARK in which he continued to place most of the blame for the troubled adoption on the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) and, continued to insist that the children were so seriously emotionally disturbed that they put his entire family in danger.
In the interview, Harris repeated his claim that he was threatened by the DHS that if he tried to dissolve the adoption, he would be charged with child abandonment; he says that Cecile Blucker, the head of DHS's Division of Children and Family Services, told him this and that another source inside DHS (who he again declined to identify) told his wife, Marsha, "this is what they plan for you... because of your husband's belief system, they will charge you with abandonment. This is what they have planned for you." He clarified that he meant that he was singled out "for my political beliefs," apparently because he is that extremely rare thing, a rightwing fundamentalist Christian, which we suppose must be a persecuted minority in Arkansas. He added that he believed DHS threatened him because, as a state legislator, he had held the agency accountable for its poor performance in constituents' adoptions.
Harris also told Petrimoulx that his family was approached by the girls' mother after they had told friends at their church that they were looking to adopt:
"Out of the blue, a mother that heard that we were wanting to adopt, literally through a friend heard about us ... and so she called us out of the blue...and said 'will you take my three girls, 'cause I'm about ready to lose them to DHS,' and we said we'll think about it, and she didn't call us back for about six months after that, and then she did and we said, yes, we'll take your three girls.'"
Harris said he didn't remember why the girls were going to be taken. He said that he had tried to arrange a private adoption with the mother, but that DHS insisted that the adoption go through channels at the DHS instead.
Just in terms of the timeline, this seems to contradict the account given by Craig and Cheryl Hart to Benjamin Hardy of the Arkansas Times on Saturday. For about a year and a half before the girls were placed with the Harrises, the two younger girls had already been removed from their birth home and had been in foster care with the Harts, while the oldest of the three sisters was "fostered at a different household that provided specialized therapeutic care for troubled children." A former DHS employee confirmed to the Times that the Harts had cared for the two younger girls from March 2011 to September 2012, when they went to the Harrises. In his interview with Petrimoulx, Harris doesn't mention the girls being in foster care prior to coming to his home, but that may have covered the time when he was wrangling with DHS over whether the adoption would be private or through DHS.
In any case, the Harts say that the girls' adoption by the Harrises was a bad idea from the get-go, telling the Times that the adoption proceeded because Cecile Blucker, the head of the department's Division of Children and Family Services, "exerted pressure on behalf of Justin Harris." Furthermore, the Harts claimed the middle sister "was not violent or dangerous," and that the Harrises were "warned repeatedly by themselves and local DHS staff that their home was not a suitable placement for the two girls or their older sister."
The Harts directly contradicted Harris's claim that he and his wife "were misled by DHS to believe that the youngest two [sisters] did not have any severe issues":
"DHS attempted to talk to them about the girls' issues, but I feel like they were in denial," Cheryl said. "They were very defensive about it. They repeatedly told us they had degrees in Early Childhood Development, they had therapists there at their preschool, and they had God to help them through this."
Cheryl said the local team recommended the adoption not proceed. The former DHS employee independently confirmed that this was the case.
The Harts also say that Blucker intervened and pressured the local DHS team to accommodate Harris:
"In most conversations with us, [Harris] would mention Cecile's name. 'Well, Cecile said this, Cecile said that.' They were impatient for papers to be filed and did not want to wait for anything. They wanted it to happen faster than it did," Cheryl Hart said.
The Times asked the former DHS employee whether the wishes of the local adoption team were not followed because of Blucker. The former employee responded, simply, "True."
The local DHS people eventually changed their recommendations, giving qualified support to the adoption, but hedging by adding that the girls should have ongoing therapy and follow-up. Cheryl Hart said that the attorney ad litem, who represented the girls' interests before the adoption judge, was surprised by the about-face in recommendations, and asked,
"When we met less than a couple of days ago, everyone's recommendation was for these kids to not go to this home. Now, what has happened in the last 24 hours that everyone's recommendation has changed?"
"Harris' face was getting all red," Cheryl said. "And the ad litem asked him, 'Did you make calls?' And he finally said, 'I did what I had to do to get these girls.' I expected the judge would [stop the adoption] but she gave them the oldest girl." The younger two soon followed.
So according to Hart, Blucker intervened to push through an adoption that caseworkers opposed, presumably after bowing to pressure from Harris, the vice-chair of the Arkansas House committee that oversees DHS. But then, according to Harris, Blucker was out to get him once he had trouble with the middle girl, because she and the rest of DHS had a political vendetta against him. Sounds pretty inconsistent to us.
The Harts are especially adamant that the younger two girls were not the dangerous Frankenchildren that Harris portrayed them as in his Friday presser. They agree that the oldest girl, who Harris said DHS took back only after she threatened to kill the whole family, "was a very difficult child, though not to the irredeemable extent that Harris depicted in his statement," but that the two younger sisters were definitely not violent while they were with the Harts:
"If they were violent, they were taught violence. We had a dog, a little Bichon, that they were around all the time and there was never once any issue with her abusing an animal. ... They thrived in our home," Cheryl said.
Craig Hart was upset at the implication that the girls were unmanageable. "Our friends, our neighbors, our church -- we can get as many character witnesses as you want for those girls," he said. "And also, they’re both small children for their age. Unless he gave them guns, they weren't dangerous."
He felt especially offended at Harris' statement [Friday]that they had to "medicate" the middle child to prevent her from "hurting her sister." He said the middle girl displayed only affection and kindness towards her younger sister. "They loved each other. The older one was very protective of the younger one."
Kyra Guthrie, who occasionally cared for the girls as well, providing the Harts a respite, also denied to the Times that the children were pet-crushing sociopaths:
"They're just normal little girls. They were very delightful, fun, energetic ... never an ounce of threats from them. They played with my adopted son in my home. I have two dogs, and they were also around our neighbors' dogs — never any problem, never any threat. When they'd sleep at my house, I'd sleep with my door wide open. I was never afraid of them."
Presumably, the girls never rotated their heads 360 degrees while their eyes glowed with hellfire in her presence. Can't imagine why that happened only in the Harris home.
Yr Wonkette will continue to follow this horror show as it develops; so far, we're mostly convinced that the Harts and Guthrie aren't part of a conspiracy to ruin poor Justin Harris, no matter how much he keeps reminding the world that he's just a decent Christian day-care owner who only wants to make an honest dollar accepting government subsidies for students at his preschool while he fights the evils of runaway government spending. And also, even though everyone is out to get him, he does at least want everyone to remember that the real victims are the children, so we'll give him that. It's quite gracious of him to point that out, even though everyone really is against him.