The military needs to do more to immediately report suspected cases of child abuse to civilian authorities, according to two lawmakers who introduced legislation in the House on Tuesday.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, cited the case of 5-year-old Talia Williams, who in 2005 was beaten to death by her father while he was stationed in Hawaii. It was later revealed that multiple federal employees, including military police and workers at Talia's on-base child care facility failed to report suspected signs of abuse, Gabbard said. She introduced the bill, named Talia's Law, along with Rep. Mark Takai, D-Hawaii.
"This is a problem that demands better protection for our children in military families who are being abused, and better support for military families facing the stresses of war, multiple deployments and economic hardship," Gabbard said in a speech on the House floor. Her bill, she said, would close the gap between "mandated reporters" of child abuse and neglect, and the installations' Family Advocacy Programs. Family advocacy is responsible for identifying and reporting abuse, and providing services for victims and families associated with child abuse and neglect, and domestic abuse.
In addition to reporting these incidents to their installation point of contact, such as family advocacy, these mandated reporters would have to report them to their local civilian child protective services agency. Mandated reporters of child abuse are generally those who come in contact with children, such as child care workers, teachers, physicians, psychologists, social workers and others.
"I've introduced Talia's Law today to require military officials to immediately report suspected cases of abuse to state child protective services," Gabbard said. "We owe it to our service members, their families and thousands of children like Talia to disrupt the status quo and stop another decade of preventable child abuse."
According to DoD statistics, in the decade from 2005 to 2014, there were 54,702 victims in cases that met the criteria for child abuse and neglect.
"It is DoD policy not to comment on pending legislation," said DoD spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson. "However, DoD is currently required by law to report all allegations of child abuse and neglect to state/local Child Protective Services."
According to Defense Department regulations, which are based in law, military family advocacy personnel and military law enforcement must reciprocally provide each other all reports of child abuse involving military personnel or their family members. And within 24 hours, family advocacy must communicate these reports of child abuse to the appropriate civilian child protective services agency for investigation. The military services also have policies for installations to follow to ensure the safety of the child victim of abuse and other children in the household.
While DoD is required to notify local child protective services officials about all reports involving child abuse and neglect, whether they are on or off the installation, civilian child protective services do not have that same requirement to notify DoD officials of incidents that are reported to them.
DoD has recommended that either federal or state legislation be introduced requiring states' child protective services officials to notify DoD of all allegations of child abuse and neglect.
In the meantime, DoD has undertaken a significant initiative to recommend to states that they establish legislation requiring the reciprocal sharing of information from each state child protective services agency to the service branch's family advocacy officials for incidents involving active-duty military families.
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.