Amidst increased attention to child welfare issues brought on by investigations of State Rep. Justin Harris's (R-West Fork) "rehoming" of his two adopted daughters, the Arkansas Department of Human Services held a rally at the State Capitol Friday to observe Child Abuse Awareness Month.
The DHS says 32,928 cases of child maltreatment were reported last fiscal year. About a quarter of those cases were confirmed by the agency. Cecile Blucker, director of DHS's Division of Children and Family Services, addressed a crowd of about 50 on the many causes of child abuse, including immaturity or unrealistic expectations of parents or loved ones.
“Sometimes there's a lack of knowledge about normal child development or behavior that may result in frustration and ultimately abusive discipline....Families struggling with poverty, unstable housing, divorce or unemployment may be at a greater risk,” she said.
Also speaking was 18-year old LaQuitha Butler who, with her child, entered state foster care at 14. She said she was abused by her biological mother. She detailed how she later got involved in the issue of state foster care policy by joining the Youth Advisory Board, of which she is now president. She described this as a “good” outcome of her involvement in the system. Of the “bad” she said, “I have met some people who just don't care about how they do their jobs or how they treat the kids in the system. All they care about is the money or just putting you down.”
“Child abuse or neglect affects children of every age, race and income level,” said Blucker, who herself has come under scrutiny for her involvement in Harris's adoption case. Harris and his wife sent the girls to live under the care of a former employee, who was later charged and convicted of sexually assualting one of the girls.
That outcome, first reported by The Arkansas Times, propelled the Arkansas Legislature to pass laws this year banning and criminalizing the process known as “rehoming.”
Harris also reportedly exerted pressure on Blucker to intervene in the adoption of the girls, after he and his wife faced some initial reticence by the agency. Harris has said high level DHS officials later threatened to bring abandonment charges once he attempted to give the daughters, who he says had psychological and disciplinary issues, back into the custody of DHS.