The Defense Department personnel chief is calling for officials to investigate reports of unauthorized daycare operations on installations, in the wake of a baby’s death at Aliamanu Military Reservation earlier this year.
Officials should take appropriate steps to shut down these unauthorized operations, wrote James Stewart, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
“We do not condone child care that is unauthorized and/or unregulated,” he wrote, in a Sept. 6 stern reminder to service manpower officials, and to the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, who is responsible for military housing.
Stewart made it clear that installation leadership has the authority to revoke the babysitter’s access to installation housing, if the babysitter refuses to cease the unauthorized operation.
He asks the leaders to make sure his concerns about the “recent tragic death” and reports of unauthorized child care across military installations, are communicated to installation leadership at all levels.
“We must be diligent in ensuring all reports of unauthorized child care are investigated, and that appropriate measures are taken to ensure these operations cease," Stewart wrote.
The 7-month-old baby, Abigail Lobisch, died Feb. 24 at the home of a Navy wife who was operating an unlicensed daycare after being shut down multiple times by base officials. The babysitter’s home was in privatized housing at Aliamanu Military Reservation, part of U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.
The baby’s death was caused by toxic levels of antihistamine in her body, according to autopsy results cited in an affidavit accompanying the arrest warrant that was filed by a detective with the Honolulu Police Department. The caregiver, Dixie Denise Villa, was arrested on July 20 and charged with manslaughter.
Villa has pleaded not guilty.
In his memo, Stewart reiterated the DoD Instruction 6060.02, which outlines the requirements for family child care providers, such as home inspections, training, and approval by the installation commander. The regulation states it’s the installation’s responsibility for regulating the family child care providers. Child care is not allowed in homes in military housing unless the requirements are met and the installation commander’s approval.
The rules apply whether the child care provider is in government-operated housing, or in privatized housing, Stewart stated. DoD and the services have stringent requirements for family day care homes, ranging from frequent inspections and oversight of the homes, to extensive training and nutrition and curriculum rules,
"Installations must have processes in place to follow up and investigate any reports of unauthorized child care,” Stewart wrote. Among other things, officials must visit the child care home, provide information about the DoD family child care program to the resident, and provide a written demand to cease the unauthorized child care operation until the provider is certified to operate.
The memorandum “is a good first step," said Katie Camario, one of three military wives who wrote a letter in June to second lady Karen Pence, expressing their concern about the child care situation. "But there has to be an urgency to making sure military leaders, members and spouses get this right, so no more children die in the same circumstances that Abigail died,”
There should be consistency in how these cases are handled across the board at military installations, Camario said. “The big question is, at what point will the offending individual be evicted? Will it be after the first, second or third cease order?" Camario said. “In Abi’s case, her provider’s residence was given two cease orders months prior to Abi’s death. However, she was not removed from housing and ultimately Abi died while in her care.”
In his memo, Stewart also addressed the issue of shortfalls in the amount of child care available for military families, especially in infant and toddler care, and noted his staff is working with the services to address the child care needs.
However, he wrote, “Despite the lack of child care in certain locations, we cannot permit unauthorized child care on our military installations.
“Making certain the children on our military installations are cared for in a safe, healthy, and quality environment must be our highest priority,”
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.