Defense officials are moving to strengthen criminal background checks for anyone who interacts with children in a DoD-sanctioned program — whether it's in child development centers, family child care homes, chapels, youth programs, DoD schools or elsewhere.
"We're pleased that DoD is taking these necessary steps to ensure the safety of children" in DoD programs, said Eileen Huck, government relations deputy director for the National Military Family Association. "Military parents need the assurance that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment and we feel this policy change is a step in the right direction."
DoD has long had a policy requiring criminal background checks on those who interact with children in DoD programs. But that policy was last updated in 1993, said DoD spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.
"The updated policy is to ensure that every individual who interacts with children undergoes a criminal history records check, and has been appropriately adjudicated to work with children in DoD programs," Christensen said.
"While no screening process can grant absolute assurances, knowing an individual's criminal background can provide greater certainty that an individual with a history of inappropriate behavior will not have access to our children and youth," he said.
The proposed regulation was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 1 and Oct. 8. Among other things, it specifies that criminal history background checks must be initiated and overseen by people who are trained and vetted experts — responsible for personnel security or for human resource functions. Program managers, supervisors and others who don't routinely perform those duties would be prohibited from managing these background checks.
The prospective employee or volunteer could be automatically disqualified because of a civilian or military conviction for a sexual offense, any criminal offense involving a child victim, or a felony drug offense. The new proposal adds civil court and administrative proceedings: If the person has been held negligent in a civil adjudication or administrative proceeding concerning the death or serious injury to a child or dependent person entrusted to that person's care, he or she would be disqualified.
As is currently the case, the regulation would apply to that broad category of anyone who interacts with military children in DoD programs. Examples added to this regulation are chaplains, chaplains' assistants and religious program specialists. Among the other areas covered, as is currently the case, are child development centers, family child care, DoD schools, child and youth programs, and others who work with children.
In December 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered a review of more than 44,000 records of employees at military child care centers, after potential problems with background investigations were identified at the Fort Myer, Virginia, child development centers. That fall, two workers at the T-482 child development center at Fort Myer were accused of assaulting children.
In the spring of 2013, defense officials said the review found that proper background checks were being conducted across DoD, but noted that officials would strengthen the policy to highlight prompt and consistent adjudication following completed background checks.
The proposed new policy requires the DoD components to follow up to make sure background checks have been completed, and to address situations where there is a delay. In no case will someone be presumed to have a favorable background check merely because there's been a delay in getting the results, the policy states.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.