HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Seven children in Arkansas who were seized by the Garland County Sheriff’s Department in January have been allowed to return home on a trial basis, leading up to a hearing to determine whether the parents will be granted full custody.
As previously reported, the homeschooled children of Hal Stanley, who pastors a home church, and his wife Michelle were removed from their Hot Springs home on Jan. 12 following an anonymous complaint.
The situation began in December as a social worker with the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) showed up at the Stanley’s door after receiving a complaint that the children were permitted to go outside in the snow barefoot. The Stanleys assured the case worker that everything was fine, and that the children had plenty of shoes, but had a custom of making footprints in the snow for fun.
“We showed her some of the 200 and something pair of shoes and told her—actually the kids told her—how it was their preference to go barefoot and that it was like a tradition to briefly run out in the snow barefoot and take a picture of the footprints,” Michelle Stanley told reporters.
However, authorities then received a second complaint claiming that the couple had a “poisonous substance” in their home, and so on Jan. 12, both DHS and members of the Garland County Sheriff’s Department appeared at their door. According to the family, officials forced the parents to step outside, at which time they were served with a search warrant.
It turned out that the substance that was being referred to was MMS (“miracle mineral supplement”) or sodium chlorite, which is used to purify water and is claimed to help cure diseases. The Stanleys state that the product was used to balance the PH of their fish tank, but that her husband had also been drinking it to help make his system more alkaline.
Five hours later, after the search concluded—along with an interrogation of the children, officials informed the Stanleys that all seven of their children were being taken into custody.
“Six intimidating, brute looking males and one DHS female all lined up in our den to tell us they would be taking our kids into their custody for 72 hours,” Stanley recalled.
But after a week later, the couple’s children still were not returned, and have now remained in state custody for the past two months. Arkansas DHS hasn’t provided an exact reason as to why the children were seized.
“It could mean that the home is unfit. It could mean that the environment is not a good environment, that there’s dirt everywhere; it could mean that,” Public Information Coordinator Kate Luck told KATV. “It could also mean the children cannot safely remain there. It may be that the parents have done something to make the environment unsafe. It could mean that the children did something…”
Mr. Stanley said that perhaps two of his older children, who now attend college, may be partially responsible for the situation as they have spoken before about their desire to attend public school. All the children have been placed in public school while in state custody.
“We have a couple of our teenagers who decided they wanted to go to public school,” Stanley said. “I think they are behind some of this, but we are trying to get to the bottom of it ourselves.”
Following a hearing on Tuesday, it was determined that the children would be allowed to return home on a trial basis.
“[A] decision has been reached that four of the youngest Stanley children will come home tomorrow for an extended visitation of two months,” the “Bring the Stanley Kids Home” Facebook page outlines. “The oldest three children will visit home on weekends and for Spring Break.”
“Having said this, the children technically remain in state custody for the next 60 days. After this period of time has passed, the state will determine whether or not to give Hal & Michelle full and complete custody,” the status continued. “It might to be exactly what we had prayed for, but it is still a victory as we await for complete victory.”
The four youngest Stanley children returned home yesterday as promised. A family friend simply identified as Kristy shared about the reunion on Facebook.
“Hugs, kisses all around. Even the cat came to greet the children and was scoop[ed] up with cuddles and ‘Oh, how I missed you.’ Inside, the quiet house was once again filled with laughter and noise,” she wrote. “Keep standing and praying till all the Stanleys are home.”