Op-Ed: Failing Our Own
Talia Williams was 5 years old when she was beaten to death by her father after suffering months of abuse at home. Despite multiple reports to officials at the Army base in Hawaii where Talia lived with her father and stepmother, the system in place failed to protect her.
Sadly, her case was not isolated. Talia’s story is just one of more than 29,000 cases of child abuse and neglect in military homes over the last decade.
Keegan Metz was 23 months old when he was raped and murdered by his parents in Tennessee in 2009. Malik Ray was 10 when he was tortured to death by his stepfather in Oklahoma in 2010. Two-month old Harmone’e Elam was beaten to death in Colorado in 2011 by her father.
The list goes on and on.
Normally, physicians, psychologists, social workers, teachers and other professionals who work closely with children are required to report any suspected cases of child abuse and neglect directly to State Child Protective Services.
But in the military, Family Advocacy Programs in each service conduct their own investigations and assessments. While they are required to make a military point of contact or military law enforcement aware of suspected abuse cases, they are not required to report them directly to State Child Protective Services.
In Talia’s case, Hawaii Child Protective Services was never notified of the multiple reports of her abuse. Numerous people around Talia recognized signs she was being abused—neighbors who heard her screaming for hours, day-care workers who recognized marks on her skin, and even military police who came to Talia’s home and found her imprisoned in her room with scratches covering her face.
These reports, however, stayed within the Army chain of command, and ultimately nothing was done to take her out of harm’s way.
Ten years after Talia’s tragic death, the same problematic policies exist within the military’s reporting requirements, and rates of child abuse and neglect in military families continue to rise.
I introduced Talia’s Law (H.R. 3894) this year to change this flawed policy and close the gap in reporting requirements that so terribly failed Talia and too many others. The legislation would require the same process and protections that exist for any other child—immediate, direct and mandatory reporting to State Child Protective Services in cases of suspected abuse and neglect.
Child abuse and neglect are inexcusable in any family and should never be justified. We must do more to protect children of military families and ensure that our service members and their families get the care and services they deserve.
Talia’s Law is an opportunity to take a long overdue step forward to help other military children like Talia get the help and attention they need.
For more information, or if you would like to support the passage of Talia’s Law, please contact me at 202-225- 4906 or visit my website at gabbard.house.gov.
The author, a Democrat, represents Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District. She is member of the House Armed Services Committee, a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard and a veteran of the war in Iraq. She introduced Talia’s Law along with Rep. Mark Takai, also a Hawaii Democrat who serves in the Hawaii Army Guard.