Today, U. S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) and U.S. Representatives Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-CA-39) and Brian Mast (R-FL-18) introduced the End Military-Connected Child Abuse and Neglect Act. The bipartisan and bicameral bill would improve how the Department of Defense tracks and responds to incidents of child abuse and neglect occurring on military installations or involving military dependents. There are approximately 1.2 million school-aged military dependents around the world, including tens of thousands in Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools. The legislation is supported by the National Children’s Alliance.
“Congress must do everything in its power to end the scourge of child abuse,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Every year, there are numerous incidents of child abuse in military families, and we must do more to protect our most innocent victims. The End Military-Connected Child Abuse and Neglect Act will improve how the Department of Defense tracks and responds to incidents of child abuse, and will strengthen protections for our most vulnerable.”
“The government has a role to play in protecting our most vulnerable citizens, and that includes children,” said Senator Rounds. “It’s unacceptable for any child to be abused or neglected. Our bill would help make sure the Department of Defense can appropriately respond to cases of abuse or neglect of the approximately 1.2 million children of military families stationed around the world.”
“As a Navy Veteran, the livelihood and safety of our military families has always been my top priority. After learning about the challenges military families face through HASC and GAO’s recent report on military-connected child abuse response, I wanted to ensure the Department of Defense is abiding by the important recommendations in the report,” said Representative Cisneros. “Incidents of abuse can have a significant impact not only on the victims, but also military families and servicemember performance. I’m grateful to work with Rep. Mast to introduce this bipartisan bill to ensure the safety of military children and families everywhere.”
“Children are among the most vulnerable in our society, and it is clear that protecting the more than 1.2 million children in militaryfamilies needs to be a higher priority,” said Representative Mast. “This legislation will ensure we are working together to protect children from abuse and making sure no one slips through the cracks.”
“We want to thank U.S. Representatives Gil Cisneros and Brian Mast and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Mike Rounds for introducing the End Military-Connected Child Abuse and Neglect Act. The release of the GAO report bolstered the work of National Children’s Alliance and our military partners in developing MOUs to enhance military and Children’s Advocacy Center coordination on cases of child maltreatment, and we are excited to see Reps. Cisneros and Mast build on this report,” said Teresa Huizar, Executive Director of National Children’s Alliance. “NCA is grateful for the commitment of Reps. Cisneros and Mast, Sens. Gillibrand and Rounds, Congress and all of our military partners to this initiative, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration to complete the MOUs and provide a comprehensive response to child victims of abuse in military families.”
Earlier this year, GAO issued a report on Increased Guidance and Collaboration Needed to Improve DOD’s Tracking and Response to Child Abuse that outlined 23 recommendations for DoD to implement. The End Military-Connected Child Abuse and Neglect Act seeks to codify these GAO recommendations.
The provisions in the legislation include:
- Expanding the scope of the Department’s centralized database on problematic sexual behavior in children and youth.
- Developing a process, by each Military Service, to monitor how reported incidents of child abuse are screened at installations to help ensure that all reported child abuse incidents that should be presented to an Incident Determination Committee are consistently presented and therefore tracked.
- Creating guidance for a process to receive and incorporate information into the Services’ central registries regarding child abuse allegations and determinations involving their servicemembers and dependents that were recorded by another Service’s Family Advocacy Program. Such guidance should include a mechanism to monitor that the process is occurring consistently.
- Expanding the voting membership of the Incident Determination Committee to include medical personnel with the requisite knowledge and experience.
- Improving communications with victim’s families about the investigative process and services available to them.
- Ensuring children who are sexually abused overseas have timely access to a certified pediatric sexual assault forensic examiner to conduct the examination.
- Improving communication between the military criminal investigative organizations and United States Attorneys for relevant cases involving child victims to help ensure that investigators are notified when prosecution is declined, including the reasons for the declination when appropriate, such as details about any investigative deficiencies.
- Developing a memorandum of understanding between each Military Service and the National Children’s Alliance that makes children’s advocacy center services available to all Service installations and thereby increase awareness of those services across the Services.