Gov. Asa Hutchinson said today that his office would oversee an independent review of child welfare services in the Department of Human Services as an outgrowth of the controversy engendered by Rep. Justin Harris’ placement of his adopted daughters in the home of a man who sexually abused one of them.
The governor said the review would cover an array of programs, not just the single adoption case, where Harris has leveled accusations against the department to explain his actions.
Hutchinson made the comment in response to a question at a news conference he’d called to talk about legislation he backs to reshape workforce education programs and also to push about $15 million into job training programs.
Hutchinson also was asked if he believed Justin Harris was fit to continue to serve. According to Brian Chilson, who was there, the governor said he intended to focus on what he could do as governor and let the legislature deal with matters that fell under legislative control. To date, no Republican has issued a word of criticism of Justin Harris. House Minority Leader Eddie Armstrong has said he thinks Harris should resign because of distraction his case presents. Harris yesterday resigned as vice chairman of a committee that handles children’s issue and also dropped off the power Joint Performance Review Committee. But House Speaker Jeremy Gillam was careful to say those were Harris’ decision alone.
Hutchinson also said he approved the bill that came out of the committee this morning to make future rehomings such as Harris did — transfer to another family without court review — a felony. He said it was a good initiative not just because of the current issue but at any time.
Armstrong issued a statement on Hutchinson’s comments:
I embrace Governor Hutchinson’s positive step in directing a review of our child welfare system. It is imperative that all parties involved be cooperative and transparent by providing all emails and documents so that we can work together to ensure a tragic situation like this one does not happen again and we can ensure the Department of Human Services is able to better serve our children in the future.