House Passes Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Bill To Strengthen Military’s Child Abuse Reporting Requirements

February 10, 2016
Press Release
Washington, DC—Today, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed Talia’s Law (H.R. 3894), legislation introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) in November 2015.  The legislation is named in memory of Talia Williams, who at age five was beaten to death by her father who was stationed in Hawaiʻi. In the months leading up to her death, multiple reports of Talia’s suspected abuse were made by federal employees in contact with her—including military police, workers at Talia’s on-base child care facility, and others—but the reports stayed within the Army’s chain of command. The case was not reported to state authorities and ultimately Talia was never taken out of harm’s way. Talia’s Law would close the gap between mandated reporters of child abuse and the military’s Family Advocacy Programs (FAP) reporting on their behalf, by requiring mandated reporters to report suspected child abuse or neglect directly to State Child Protective Services.
 
“More than 10 years after Talia's tragic death, the same gaps in the military’s reporting requirements that failed to protect Talia remain unchanged.  Meanwhile, over the last decade, there have been 29,000 cases of child abuse and neglect in military homes,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “To close this gap and fix this problem, Talia’s Law requires the same protections that exist for any other child to also protect children in military families, by requiring immediate, direct reporting to State Child Protective Services in cases of suspected abuse and neglect. This legislation cannot right the wrongs that failed to protect Talia, but it takes an important step toward helping to better protect thousands of children in military families, and to get them and their families the care and services they deserve.” 
 
Full text of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s remarks on the House floor is available below
 
Background:
Currently, the military’s Family Advocacy Programs identify individuals who are mandated to report known or suspected cases of child abuse - generally, professionals that come into contact with children such as physicians, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and others - to a report point of contact, who conducts an assessment investigation into the reported child abuse. Each of the service branches in every state require the report point of contact to communicate with State Child Protective Services. To close the communications gap that may exist between mandated reporters and those who may report to the State on their behalf, Talia’s Law would:
 
1) Require those working on military installations who are already required by state law (“mandated reporters”) to report known or suspected instances of child abuse and neglect to make the report directly to State Child Protective Services, or another appropriate state agency, in addition to the member's or employee's chain of command or any designated DOD point of contact;
1) Require mandated reporters to receive training in accordance with State guidelines to improve their ability to recognize evidence of child abuse and neglect, and understand mandatory reporting requirements imposed by law.
 
Full text of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s remarks on the House floor
 
“Mr. Speaker, in 2005, 5 year old Talia Williams was beaten to death by her own father, who was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaiʻi at the time. Talia suffered through months and months of abuse from her father and her stepmother which ultimately led to her death. Why didn’t someone do somethingʻ Why was this allowed to occurʻ Why didn't someone take action to stop this horrific abuse that was visible to so many who knew Taliaʻ There were multiple reports that were made to military officials, but when it came right down to it, nothing was done to take Talia out of harm’s way.
 
I’m rising today to ask my colleagues to support my bill, H.R. 3894, Talia’s Law, because more than 10 years after Talia's tragic death, the same gaps in the military’s reporting requirements that failed to protect Talia remain unchanged. In fact, over the last decade, there have been over 29,000 cases of child abuse and neglect in military homes. 
 
Outside of the military, in the civilian world, whether its doctors, psychologists, social workers, teachers or other professionals who work closely with children, they are required to report any suspected cases of child abuse and neglect directly to that State’s Child Protective Services. But the military’s reporting requirements do not require that direct reporting to state authorities. So reports of Talia’s suspected abuse never reached the Hawaiʻi Child Protective Services—instead, they stayed within the Army’s chain of command.
 
Now I know there were a lot of people around Talia who had good intentions and who were gravely concerned about the abuse that they were seeing, but the fact remains that Talia was never removed from this abusive environment. 
 
To close this gap and fix this problem, Talia’s Law requires the same protections that exist for any other child—whether they are in a military household or not. This bill requires immediate and direct reporting to State Child Protective Services in cases of suspected abuse and neglect. 
 
I recently spoke to Talia’s mother, Tarshia, who knows that this bill won’t bring Talia back. It cannot right the wrongs that failed to protect Talia. But what she does know, and what she does hope, is that the passage of this bill will take an important step forward in helping to better protect the thousands of other children in military families who may be facing this same situation and get them the care and services that they deserve. 
 
So, Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge my colleagues to honor Talia and all of our children in military families, and support H.R. 3894.”
 
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