The ongoing story about Rep. Justin Harris' adoption and "rehoming" children in the home of a child molester has stirred a response from many who, like Harris, think the state Department of Human Services bears some culpability not only in his case but in others.
The giant agency, which oversees billions in federal spending, is no stranger to attention and controversy. Its work covers some of the most vulnerable people in some of the most vexing of circumstances. The caseload is huge and, for the most part, never-ending. Human beings often must make judgment calls on difficult cases. Those affected often differ in opinion on the wisdom of those decisions.
Friday afternoon, Rep. Justin Harris and his wife Marsha held a press conference at the state Capitol to address the revelations in this week's Arkansas Times cover story about their failed adoption, which ended in the "rehoming" of two girls in a household where one of them was sexually abused. As Max Brantley wrote yesterday, it was an emotional statement. But extensive reporting we've done these past few days casts doubt upon crucial points in the narrative Justin Harris delivered Friday.
year-old boy was sexually abused by his foster father after two Broward County child welfare groups failed to conduct proper background checks on the man, according to allegations in a civil lawsuit filed this week.
Lawyers for the boy say that ChildNet, Inc. and Kids In Distress, Inc. failed to do adequate investigations of John Michael McGuigan before granting him a foster care license.
Officials could have easily discovered several troubling allegations about McGuigan's past that would have made him ineligible, the boy's lawyer, Howard Talenfeld, said Wednesday.
McGuigan also lied about aspects of his background that should have been uncovered by an appropriate screening, he said.
"There were very significant red flags," Talenfeld said.
McGuigan resigned as head of Broward House, the service center for people with HIV and other medical problems, in 2012 amid controversy about the foster care allegations.
The boy, now 12, is referred to only by his initials in Broward Circuit Court records. He was placed in McGuigan's care in August 2010.
In a sometimes emotional Capitol news conference, state Rep. Justin Harris, with his wife, Marsha, by his side, told of a failed effort to bring three sisters into his home for adoption, but an inability to have them adjust.
He spoke for the first time of the third sister, which we reported earlier today. He said the state Department of Human Services had insisted that the Harris family take in that child if he was to adopt two younger sisters as he hoped. She was a danger to his family, he said, and ultimately placed elsewhere. The younger sisters, too, proved a problem. One "crushed" a small animal, he said. He said he had his older sons sleep with him out of fear.
The most explosive charge by Harris was that he DID seek DHS assistance before giving the children to another family, but was met only with a threat of child abandonment charges . He said he supported both Rep. Greg Leding's bill on rehoming limits (which would prohibit in the future actions such as Harris took in turning children over to another family) and Gov. Asa Hutchinson's vow to put DHS practices under review.
The Arkansas Times has learned that Rep. Justin Harris and his wife Marsha began the process to adopt a third girl in addition to the two children who were the focus of this week's cover story about rehoming — an older sister.
We've been told she was about 8 years old upon entering the Harris home in 2012 along with her younger siblings. Unlike the two girls in our previous story, she evidently left the Harris household long before the adoption was finalized.
Prior to our publishing the story, unofficial sources had mentioned the third girl to the Times but we were unable to substantiate the presence of the third girl in the household. Since the story broke, we've been contacted by multiple sources in Northwest Arkansas, some with knowledge of the adoption, who confirm that the Harrises did intend to permanently adopt the third sister as well.
Rep. Justin Harris presented today his bill to allow school districts to erect Nativity scenes and refer to Christmas as Christmas if they choose and display Christian symbols. In the face of opposition, he pulled the bill down.
The bill was written cagily:
It says districts "may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations and allow students and school districts to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations …"
I'm not aware of any rule that currently prohibits anyone from saying Merry Christmas.
The bill also says religious symbols maybe used as long as more than one religion is included in a display or a secular image is also included.
In short: Have a Nativity scene, but it's OK if you stick Santa Claus in it.
Harris has another bill about the kinds of messages students can express on T-shirts and elsewhere.
Harris emphasized that his bill was permissive, not a requirement. He said districts are hypersensitive to concerns about religion in public schools.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson elaborated today on a statement yesterday responding to the Arkansas Times reporting about the adoption of children by Rep. Justin Harris, his "rehoming" of them with another family and the subsequent rape of one child at the new home.
The governor's statement:
“I have previously instructed the Department of Human Services to review the practice of ‘rehoming’ and recommend changes with the best interest of the child foremost in mind. In addition, I have met with Rep. Greg Leding and Rep. David Meeks to discuss their legislation and additional ideas to reform our adoption procedures so that our children have the greatest opportunity for a safe, loving and secure home.
“There are legitimate concerns brought forth by the recent story in the media. And the public policy issues pertaining to it should be addressed as soon as possible. Our children deserve nothing less than our full attention and utmost care.”
Rep. Justin Harris and his wife, Marsha, have issued a statement through their lawyer, Jennifer Wells, in advance of tomorrow afternoon's press conference, at which Harris is expected to offer comment on the rehoming of their adopted daughters. The girls were placed by the Harrises in a household where they were subsequently sexually abused, as revealed by our cover story this week.
I just don't know what to say in response to this statement. After weeks of digging into this story and the various lives that have been upended by the actions of the Harrises, reading this simply leaves me speechless. Here's the full thing:
JEFFERSON, Ohio -- A husband and wife accused of making three of their adopted children virtual prisoners inside their home pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a case that began after prosecutors say two girls crashed the family van while trying to make their escape.
The 58-year-old adopted father is charged with sexually abusing the two girls, now ages 17 and 14. He and his 64-year-old wife are both charged with kidnapping, felonious assault and endangering children in Ashtabula County, east of Cleveland.
The Associated Press is not naming the suspects to avoid identifying the girls. County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci said the couple also abused and neglected an adopted son, now 21, who is mentally disabled.
Iarocci said Wednesday that the couple "repeatedly and harshly" beat the girls and older son with a paddle that eventually became stained with blood. The three victims were given little to eat and were malnourished, Iarocci said.
He called living conditions inside the home "deplorable."
A Jeffersontown mother was found not guilty Monday on charges she abused her 5-year-old special needs son.
Rachel Tipton, 29, was acquitted on two charges of first and second degree criminal abuse. A Jefferson Circuit Court jury of eight women and four men deliberated for just over four hours Monday evening before announcing the not guilty charges. Judge Olu Stevens declared a mistrial on a lesser charge of criminal abuse after the jury announced they were unable to come to a unanimous decision.
Tipton and her pediatrician husband adopted the boy from Ethiopia when he was 11 months old.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Erin McKenzie tried to convince the jury that Tipton, a homemaker, hit the boy on his genitals with a wooden spoon, cut the inside of his mouth when force feeding him and was responsible for head injuries the boy sustained in 2013.
Defense attorney David Lambertus attacked the very basis of the abuse claims, calling into question the work of a "very busy, swamped, overwhelmed" social worker whose report served as a basis for the commonwealth's medical expert who opined the child had been abused.
An Ashtabula County couple accused of locking away three of their adopted children and subjecting them to physical was arrested Thursday.
An Ashtabula County Grand Jury secretly indicted David and Rejeana Moss on Wednesday on nine felony counts, with David Moss facing an additional five counts related to sexual misconduct with the two female minors.
Authorities say the abuse took place during a two-year period between Sept. 1, 2011 and Sept. 12, 2013 at the family’s Dorset Township home. The three victims, two female children and an adult male who is mentally challenged, were adopted by David and Rejeana Moss about 11 years ago.
The children were home-schooled most of the time and had not been allowed to socialize outside of the home for several years, Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nick Iarocci said. They told investigators the girls, who shared a room, and the male were locked in their separate bedrooms at the residence “virtually all-day, every day.”
A trial is expected to begin in September in the attempted murder case of Jorge Barahona, the man accused of trying to kill his adopted son in Palm Beach County after authorities say he and his wife murdered the boy’s twin sister in Miami.
Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg-Feuer this morning set Barahona’s trial for Sept. 28. Prosecutor Jill Richstone and Assistant Public Defender James Snowden estimate the trial will last eight to nine days.
On the morning of Valentine’s Day 2011, authorities found 10-year-old Nubia Barahona’s decomposing body just feet away from her brother, Victor, inside Jorge Barahona’s pest control truck along Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach.
Jorge Barahona and his wife Carmen are facing murder charges in connection with Nubia’s death in a death-penalty case in Miami. Jorge Barahona, who remains jailed in Miami, did not appear in Palm Beach County court for this morning’s hearing.
JEFFERSON_ Dorset Township couple David V. Moss and ReJeana Moss were secretly indicted by an Ashtabula County Grand Jury on nine felony charges of kidnapping, felonious assault and endangering children.ac name ReJeana Mossac name David V. Mossmoss
David Moss was also indicted on two second degree felony charges of sexual battery, and three third degree felony charges of gross sexual imposition with a minor.
The incidents are alleged to have occurred between September 1, 2011 and September 12, 2013 at 2530 St. Rt. 307 in Dorset Township where Mr. and Mrs. Moss and the victims resided. Mr. and Mrs. Moss adopted the victims approximately 11 years ago.
The charges stem from claims by two female children and an adult male who is mentally challenged. These individuals allege that the girls and male were locked in their separate bedrooms at the residence virtually all-day every day. The girls shared one bedroom and the adult male had his own bedroom. They further allege that were repeatedly beaten with a paddle by Mr. and Mrs. Moss. The children and male allege that the paddle was used so often and so harshly that it had blood stains on it.
When Jenica Randazzo was removed from her grandparents’ home in September 2012, child welfare administrators had concluded she was in “substantial and immediate danger.”
A court-appointed guardian and a foster care worker remained “adamantly against” any contact between the girl and her grandparents a year later when foster care administrators considered reunifying the family. The private agency, which contracts with the Department of Children & Families, proceeded with the plan.
The skeptics proved hauntingly prophetic: On Feb. 7, Jenica’s uncle, who lived in the Pasco County home, bludgeoned 9-year-old Jenica to death with a tire iron, police say.
Executives with Eckerd Community Alternatives reviewed their handling of the case, and concluded “there were no indications that could have predicted this tragic outcome.”
Jody Lynn (Friedley) Swarbrick -- 1953-2015
Feb 22, 2015 2
Mom -- Mother of Many
Jody lost a lengthy battle to illness on February 19th, 2015, at Allen Memorial Hospital, in Waterloo, IA. She is survived by 30 children, 32 grandchildren, her mother, father, sister and brother.
Jody changed the lives of so many people, especially children. It was her life mission to see that any soul that needed a home, a meal or just a hug was on the receiving end of one. She saw only the good in people and knew how to bring out the best. She gave all of us an opportunity to have a better life by having a family and taking care of those who couldn't do so themselves. Jody had several sayings, one of which was: There's always room for one more; and love isn't love unless it's shared.
Jody's life was celebrated Saturday, February 21st, 2015, at Cedar Valley Community Church in Waterloo, IA.
We love you mom, you will be missed and always in our hearts.