DHS releases documents on child abuse, neglect investigation into Hart children

This March 20, 2016 photo shows Hart family of Woodland, Wash., at a Bernie Sanders rally in Vancouver, Wash. Authorities in Northern California say they believe all six children from a family were in a vehicle that plunged off a coastal cliff. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allmon told reporters Wednesday, March 28, 2018, that only three bodies of the children have been recovered. Their parents also died Monday. (Tristan Fortsch/KATU News via AP)

WEST LINN, Ore. – The Oregon Department of Human Services received reports of child abuse involving Jennifer and Sarah Hart back in 2013 -- allegations that were similar to other neglect and abuse investigations into the couple’s adopted children when they lived in Minnesota and Woodland, Washington.

KATU News obtained the documents Monday after filing a petition with the Oregon Department of Human Services. The reports state that they looked into the allegations, however, they couldn't prove there was any abuse or neglect through their own assessments.

Law enforcement found the bodies of Sarah, Jennifer and four of the children near where the family’s SUV plunged off a cliff along the California coastline. Two other children, 15-year-old Devonte and 16-year-old Hannah, remain missing. Police said they have every reason to believe the missing kids were in the SUV with the rest of their family at the time of the crash.

Investigators have said they believe the crash was intentional.

Based on court records, authorities have investigated several reports of child neglect and abuse around the couple, going back almost a decade to when the family lived in Minnesota.

KATU News also confirmed Child Protective Services visited the Hart family home just outside Woodland, Wash. on Friday, March 23 – just days before the California crash.

On Monday, Oregon DHS released records of their investigation of child neglect involving the Hart children.

DHS received a call in June 2013 from a family friend who said Jen would withhold food from the children as punishment, and that they’d “seen the children get taller, but it does not appear they gain any weight.”

During the call, the family friend said Jen coaches the kids to act and say certain things,. They also said the parents made the children pose for photos and the kids "are made to look like one big happy family, but after the photo they go back to looking lifeless."

The documents show that Oregon DHS contacted Minnesota Child Welfare about a previous case where the children were “rummaging through the garbage for food at school and taking food from other children.”

In the reports from Minnesota, Oregon DHS learned that the children “reported not getting supper, being sent to bed without food, being made to stay in bed all day and stand in a corner for a long time as discipline.”

After the assessment in Minnesota, the Harts pulled the children from school and moved.

When interviewed by Oregon DHS, both parents denied that the children were undernourished, and instead said “they are small in stature,” citing that there was little known about their birth parents’ medical history.

During interviews, all six children did not talk about abuse or having food withheld. However, the case workers did say all of the children (aside from Devonte) seemed very reserved and shy.

Friend of Harts says parents tried to isolate children

While learning about the case history, a Minnesota Child Welfare worker told Oregon DHS, "these women (Jen and Sarah) look normal" and give professionals information that links health and behavioral problems to the kids. The worker added that "without regular academic and medical oversight ... these children risk falling through the cracks."

DHS says since the report, it has changed its practices from incident-based investigations to comprehensive safety assessments, which require consistent contact with children, family, friends and teachers. Now, workers have 60 days to complete a safety assessment.

It hopes by releasing these records will help prevent a tragedy in the future.

Below is the investigation report from Oregon DHS (Click here to read it if you're using our app or mobile device):

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