Senators Urge 'Immediate and Decisive Action' by Pentagon on Child Abuse Policies Following Report

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during a media availability on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023 in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

A group of senators is demanding answers from the Pentagon on how its branches handle allegations of child abuse and mistreatment in the wake of's reporting that found major gaps in policy and oversight existed in at least three cases of abuse in three different states.

In a letter exclusively provided to, Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Laphonza Butler, D-Calif.; Alex Padilla, D-Calif.; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, have asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to better outline what policies the Pentagon has in place to protect kids, notify parents and what relationship the military has with state agencies.

The letter, sent Thursday, is the latest in a series of steps that Congress and the Pentagon have taken to investigate the issues that were revealed by instances of abuse by day-care staff at Navy facilities at Ford Island Child Development Center near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California, as well as by another child at an Army center serving the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.

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Hours after published its reporting, the Pentagon's top spokesman, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, said that the Defense Department was requesting an inspector general investigation into the matter. Then on Tuesday, lawmakers, including Murray, grilled the civilian heads of both the Army and Navy over the issues raised in the reporting.

The letter sent by the senators notes that the Pentagon "operates the largest employer-sponsored child care program in the United States" and that it takes care of around 200,000 children of both service members and Defense Department civilians. The lawmakers also stressed that child-care benefits are "crucial" for service members, both in terms of supporting families as well as helping to meet recruiting, retention and readiness goals.

Among the 10 questions posed in the letter to Austin, the senators want to know when the Pentagon is "responsible for responding to safety issues at CDCs and when are state agencies responsible?"

The Navy's policies, for example, mandate that instances of abuse by employees be reported internally to the Family Advocacy Program, or FAP, and outside the military to a state's child protective services, or CPS.

The problem, though, is that CPS officials in both California and Pennsylvania told that they don't have jurisdiction over military installations and don't handle those cases.

The letter also asks the Pentagon to answer for the problems reported by Army Capt. Jeremy Kuykendall and his wife Kate regarding their infant daughter Isabella, who experienced abuse at the child-care center at Pearl Harbor.

The Kuykendalls said their daughter was abused over the span of three days at the Ford Island day care in 2022. Video from the day care showed the 15-month-old girl being pinched, smothered and thrown up against a wall by two workers. The abuse was severe enough that several doctors later told Isabella's parents that she suffered a concussion, in addition to the other injuries.

"In the Hawaii case, NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] did not take action until seven months after the incident occurred," the letter says before asking, "why did NCIS take so long to get involved in these cases?"

On Tuesday, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro assured Murray while speaking at a Senate hearing that the sea service "actually learned those lessons and we've applied all those lessons throughout all ... child development centers from two years ago" and that, despite the "numerous policy violations" that they were aware of, training was "conducted and applied across all CDCs in the Navy and Marine Corps today." asked Del Toro's office for more details about the remarks and for specific lessons or measures he was referring to, but a Navy spokesman said his office had nothing additional to add beyond his testimony.

Despite the assurances, the letter from the senators asks whether the Navy conducted an investigation into "the Hawaii incident to determine whether personnel, either military or civilian, failed to follow regulatory requirements," and if so, "what were the results of that investigation, and if any compliance errors or omissions were identified, what accountability actions were taken?"

It was only after more than a year of advocacy and pressure by the Kuykendalls that two of the three workers allegedly responsible for Isabella's abuse were charged in a civilian court. Two of the workers involved were also allowed to keep working for five months before one was fired and the other quit.

The family told that they weren't aware of any other accountability measures that stemmed from their case.

The letter also asks the Pentagon to elaborate on its notification policies and explain if "these policies vary from military service to military service, and if so, why?"

Ultimately, Murray and the senators from California and Hawaii urge the Pentagon "to take immediate and decisive action to address these extraordinarily concerning issues" and note that "failure to act swiftly and effectively could put more children in danger, and will undermine the trust and confidence of service members and their families in the military child care system."

Related: Report on Child Abuse at Military Day Cares Sparks Tough Questions for Navy, Army Leaders on Capitol Hill

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