Pentagon Asks Watchdog to Investigate Abuse Issues in Base Day Care Centers After Report

Pentagon Press Secretary U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder
Pentagon Press Secretary U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 4, 2024. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders)

The Pentagon has asked its internal watchdog, the inspector general, to probe the military day care system's handling of abuse cases -- a move that came late Wednesday, just hours after an investigative report by was published.

The investigation revealed that service branch rules generally prioritize protecting base day care centers over children who are victims of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of staff. Reporting further revealed how policies keep parents in the dark while officials formulate a public relations response and have minimal safeguards to guarantee accountability.

"It is paramount that we ensure children on DoD installations are provided a safe, healthy, and caring environment -- and their families have confidence in the care provided," Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, told in an email announcing the referral of the issue to the DoD inspector general.

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Ryder further promised the office will "work together with the military departments to ensure CDC [child development centers] facilities and staff meet the highest standards of care for our children and to promote appropriate accountability."

The inspector general's office told in an email that it was reviewing the request "to determine the appropriate course of action" and had no further comment.

The Defense Department's swift response, especially as a reaction to reporting, is rare. The IG is an independent watchdog agency within the department and, while unlikely in this instance, it does have the authority to turn down such a referral.

An IG investigation itself doesn't necessarily mean individuals will be held accountable, but it could shed more light on the issue and potentially serve as ammunition for regulation changes or action on Capitol Hill.

Jeremy Kuykendall, an Army captain and the father of one of the abuse victims, told that he was grateful and cautiously optimistic about the referral to the IG, but said the overall situation has still left him feeling frustrated and betrayed.

"There's not what you build into the culture and ethos and understanding of trust; you have to have each other's back, right?" Kuykendall said Thursday. "You have to go to war, not [be] questioning the liability of the people to your left and right. So, you're not thinking about remote problems, like accountability issues within a day care incident, but it's connected."

Kuykendall's daughter Isabella was abused over her three-day time at the Ford Island day care at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii in 2022. CCTV footage showed that she, then 15 months old, was pinched, smothered, thrown up against a wall and handled so roughly at the hands of two workers that a pediatrician believed she even suffered a concussion in addition to bruises and scratches.

Throughout the investigation, spoke to a dozen families and their lawyers, all with similar stories of not being told when their child was injured and, in many cases, parents assuming hefty legal bills to force the military branches to tell them what happened.

Despite collecting instances of military leadership admitting failures, finger-pointing and weaponized ignorance often won out in the cases analyzed by the publication, leading to little or no accountability taken or changes made.

In one case, this enabled one of the workers who abused Bella and who was later found guilty of assault in a civilian court to keep working at the day care for an additional five months after the abuse was discovered, despite the Navy having been made aware of the worker's involvement.

Although rare, this is the second time in three weeks that a report has yielded a potential IG investigation.

Late last month, the Army referred the case of Gen. Charles Hamilton to the Defense Department inspector general for investigation, following a report that showed Hamilton may have used a "pressure campaign" to influence the Army Command Assessment Program panel in favor of one of his former subordinate officers, a lieutenant colonel.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth suspended Gen. Charles Hamilton on March 22 and referred the case to the IG after reporting revealed that, even though the assessment process ultimately found the officer unqualified due to ineffective and counterproductive leadership, she was still later placed on a selection list for command.

No wrongdoing was suspected on the lieutenant colonel's part.

Related: Unsupervised: Military Child Care Centers Slow to Report Abuse with Little Oversight

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