Lawmakers Address ‘Rehoming’ In Wake Of Adoption Controversy
By John Lyon
LITTLE ROCK — Two state representatives who filed separate bills last week to address the issue of ‘rehoming’ of adopted children say they were unaware until a few days ago that the practice was legal in Arkansas — and common enough to have a name.
“I think it’s fair to say that most of the Legislature was unaware that this was even an issue, that this was legal, as little as 72 hours ago,” Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said Friday. “It has raised a lot of concerns.”
The Arkansas Times first reported last week that in October 2013, Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, and his wife, Marsha, placed their two adopted daughters in the Bella Vista home of Eric Cameron Francis and Francis’ wife. The Harrises had adopted the girls, who are sisters, in March 2013.
Eric Francis pleaded guilty in November to three counts of second-degree sexual assault involving one of the Harrises’ adopted daughters and two other girls. The two sisters have since been adopted by another family.
Harris has said the children have severe emotional issues and that he moved them to Francis’ home after the state Department of Human Services threatened to charge him with abandonment if he returned them to DHS custody.
A DHS spokeswoman said the agency cannot comment on specific adoption cases but said the agency always has had an open door-policy with Harris on personal or constituent concerns.
On Wednesday, Leding filed House Bill 1648, which would make it a felony for an adoptive parent to transfer permanent custody of an adopted child to someone who is not a relative within five degrees of kinship, unless ordered to do so by a court.
On Thursday, Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, filed a similar bill, HB 1676.
“It’s amazing. Being a part of the foster care system myself — me and my wife are foster parents, we’ve gone through the training — I’ve never really heard of this particular thing,” Meeks said.
Meeks and Leding met with Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday. They said the governor supports their efforts and wants to see rehoming legislation passed during the current session, which legislative leaders hope to wrap up at the end of this month.
Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis confirmed Friday that the governor “supports their measure and will work with them through the process of possible additions and/or amendments.”
Meeks’ bill would make it a felony to rehome any minor, while Leding’s would only apply to adopted children. Meeks said that after talking with the governor he has decided to amend his bill to apply only to adopted children as well.
Leding and Meeks rushed to file bills quickly because the deadline for filing bills this session is Monday, but they said they plan to work further on the measures. As of Friday they had not decided whether to run both bills, they said.
“We did file something quickly knowing the deadline was coming up, but we do want to make sure that we get the right policy in place, so we are working with different groups and getting feedback from different groups to make sure that we don’t pass something just to pass something,” Leding said.
Meeks, who has filed several bills targeting human trafficking over the past few years, said he was alarmed when he began researching rehoming to learn that it can be connected to human trafficking, especially in international adoptions.
“What’s scary is, I’ve discovered human traffickers are using this right now as a way to get kids into the United States and then turn them over to traffickers. As we’ve made laws against human trafficking, they’re now using other vehicles like this to bring kids in and then traffic them,” he said.
In addition to banning rehoming, Meeks said lawmakers also should look at “the broader picture.”
“What can we do with our Department of Human Services and with our other state resources to keep a parent from even having to even be thinking about having to make a decision like that?” he said.