DHS removes 22 children from residential home

VANNDALE, Ark. — The State of Arkansas removed almost two dozen kids from a residential children’s home.

The Arkansas Department Of Human Services was responding to an abuse claim against the director, who told us the allegation is untrue.

The Bridge of Hope Children’s Home is in the small community of Vanndale, five miles north of Wynne.

The children who live there are all from troubled families, and Director and Owner Dr. Martha Watts says she is dedicated to giving them a safe, loving environment.

“I give virtually 24 hours a day, almost every day of my life, to take care of these children. Why would I abuse a child?” said Dr. Watts.

It’s difficult for her to understand the accusations against her.

“This home is for abused and neglected children that become a ward of the state, ” said Watts.

Monday, she watched as all 22 of the children in her care were removed by Arkansas DHS workers.

“About two weeks ago, there were some allegations that there had been directed straight at me. That I had in some way abused the children. I don’t really know what the allegations are. The state has never told me that,” said Watts.

She believes a disgruntled parent filed a complaint against her after a child said he had been “whipped” by Watts.

“The dad had the police called and DHS and he was taken to the doctor. And the doctor said, ‘This is not indicative of a whipping.’ He had two little spots on his shinbone. Children fall all the time,” said Watts.

Watts was under the impression the children would stay in her home for at least 30 days while DHS investigated.

Monday evening, as children were getting ready to watch TV, DHS workers showed up and started removing children from the home.

One worker told Watts the agency had received another complaint and decided to take the children now.

“The children were just crying and screaming and going everywhere, ‘What have we done, what have we done?’ I said, ‘you haven’t done anything.'”

She said the children were only allowed to take a few things, leaving behind boxes of donated books, toys, and clothing.

Lynda McKee is a “live-in” foster care parent at Bridge of Hope and can’t believe the accusations against Watts.

“I wouldn’t work here if thought these children were being abused or neglected, no. They are definitely loved.” said Lynda McKee.

Lisa Churaman is from Wynne and has taught some of the children in Bible school at Calvary Fellowship Church.

She feels strongly about Watts’ innocence.

“I don’t believe it. I don’t care what their allegations are. They really need to ask each child, they need to ask everyone who has interactions with her, which I don’t feel like they have done. There’s no way, there’s no possible way that there’s any abuse,” said Churaman.

The home has been caring for children ages 6 to 13 years old since 2005.

A spokesperson with the Arkansas Department of Human Services would not comment on the investigation.