Arkansas State Rep. Justin Harris, who has recently come under fire after the rape of a six-year-old girl he adopted and abandoned to the care of a former employee at Harris’ day care, introduced a bill this week that would weaken the requirements for sprinkler systems in day care facilities.
Harris owns a day care business that, according to the Arkansas Times in 2011, “operates on almost $900,000 a year and serves about 150 kids. Of that, all but about 6 percent comes in the form of state and federal dollars in a program aimed at developmentally disabled and poor children. The money provides Harris and his wife almost $60,000 a year in salary and benefits, yet he still finds time to fight against others receiving state services and in-state tuition if they are unable to prove citizenship or legal immigrant status.
Despite its owner’s beliefs, Growing God’s Kingdom Preschool happily accepted government subsidies for “perhaps a dozen undocumented students among his 150 pre-schoolers” at his school.
God’s Growing Kingdom also fell under public scrutiny when it was revealed that Harris received funding through the state’s “Arkansas Better Choice” (ABC) program, despite the school’s religious instruction.
Americans United For Separation of Church and State filed a complaint against ABC, noting that the school’s handbook promised that staff members will “strive too [sic] ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.” The children, it continues, will be taught “the word of God” so that they can “spread the word of God to others.”
The ABC program revised its guidelines in response to the complaint, specifying that state funds may not be used on religious instruction during the school day leading to some teeth-gnashing on Harris’ part. Harris said in response to the guideline change:
“[State Legislators] are going to have to look and just say, ‘You know what? If you’re rich you can go to a Christian pre-school. If you’re not, then too bad.'”
Harris introduced a bill to protect religious expression in schools, presumably so that he could continue running his state-funded cult — one that received only five votes in the 20-member House Education Committee.
Harris, in 2012, adopted two girls, ages three and six, in an apparent effort to flex his Christian street cred. Unfortunately, he and his wife tired of the children and handed them off to a former employee of Growing God’s Kingdom and his wife in October 2013, just six months after the adoption was finalized.
That employee was Eric Cameron, who was arrested for the rape of the older of the children in April 2014. Cameron was a head teacher at Harris’ preschool between November 2013 and January 2014, but was fired for poor work attendance.
“He came with a pristine record,” Harris said at the time, noting that Cameron was a youth pastor at a local church and had worked in early childhood education for the Bentonville School District and with a Head Start program.
In November 2014, Cameron was sentenced to 40 years in prison on a negotiated plea deal. Investigators learned of the abuse after concerned individuals had called the Department of Human services to report that Harris and his wife had abandoned the children. According to a report prepared by Sgt. Kimberly A. Warren of the Arkansas State Police:
“It was later reported to the Department of Human Services that Mr. and Mrs. Harris had left the children with another family and had basically abandoned them. This incident was reported to the child abuse hotline and the children were interviewed.”
The call that brought the abuse to light occurred on March 21. An unidentified caller reported that the Harris family “gave their adoptive children to a family” and ” “that family in turn gave the children to another family,” yet the Harrises “continued to accept adoption subsidy money even after giving the children away.” The children were interviewed, which led to the discovery of the abuse.
According to Stacy Harris, the children stayed with her and her husband “until February or March of 2014,” and the couple was hoping to adopt them. Investigators determined that the children were, indeed, in a new home, and that the children were safe. They remain there today.
No charges were filed against Harris or his wife, because what they did was completely legal, the Arkansas Times notes:
If some readers are startled to learn that it’s legal for adoptive parents to give their children to another family, they’re in good company. As the State Police investigation unfolded last spring, one person kept apprised of its progress was then-Gov. Mike Beebe. Matt DeCample, Beebe’s former spokesperson, said the governor was surprised as anyone to hear about the practice of “rehoming,” as it’s called in the adoption world. (DeCample said it was common practice for the State Police to alert the governor’s office whenever it discovered a state elected official had an ancillary connection to a criminal investigation.)
“As we were briefed on the State Police investigation into Mr. Francis and the circumstances around that case, none of us in the office, including the governor, had ever dealt with the rehousing of children who had been adopted through DHS,” DeCample recalled. “It’s not something that had ever come up before, and, frankly, we didn’t know that it was something that could happen, or why it would ever happen.
“The governor asked some of our legal folks to look at how that was legally possible in the state — or at least why there wasn’t anything preventing it from happening. And everything we got back said there was not anything definitive in Arkansas Code prohibiting such an activity.”
Obviously Harris, who decries criticism of his actions regarding two children for whom he was supposed to care and provide as “evil” attempts to “smear” him, is a person with children’s best interests at heart. This week, he introduced a bill that would place children all over the state at risk by weakening requirements for sprinkler systems in childcare facilities.
Under the daycare owner’s genius plan, facilities would not be required to have sprinklers or any other fire suppression systems unless they have “commercial cooking equipment” — something that would help pad his pockets with money saved from continuing his trend of not protecting children under his care.
Since Harris’ completely legal abandonment (or “rehoming”) of his adopted daughters, Rep. Greg Leding has filed a bill that would criminalize the practice. If the bill passes, the practice would be a felony if the child was given to anyone outside the adoptive parents’ family.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson also issued a statement on the practice of “rehoming,” explaining that he “recognizes the valid concerns over the issue of “rehoming” and will ask DHS to review this practice and to determine what changes in rules need to be considered.”