Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered investigations Tuesday into the hiring practices at military daycare centers worldwide following allegations of faulty background checks and possible physical abuse at the Army’s Fort Myer Child Development Center next to the Pentagon.
Panetta’s action last night came after the Army announced that it was investigating personnel and hiring practices at all 283 of its child care facilities at bases in the U.S. and overseas because of “derogatory information” found in the security background checks of a number of employees at the Fort Myer CDC.
“Secretary Panetta fully supports this review by the Army and has directed each of the services to conduct a similar review of hiring practices at all DoD Child Development Centers,” George Little, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said in a statement.
The Fort Myer facility, one of the Army’s largest, provides daycare services for nearly 500 children aged six weeks to 12 years old. Similar facilities in all the services care for thousands of children nationwide.
"The safety of the children under our care is our most important responsibility," Col. Fern Sumpter, garrison commander at Fort Myer, said in a statement released by the Army. "The quality of their care and safety has been and will continue to be our most important priority."
Following complaints from parents in September, surveillance tapes showed at least two Fort Myer daycare workers pinching, kneeing and otherwise harshly treating toddlers at the Child Development Center.
The two workers were arrested by federal authorities. One was charged with five counts of assault and the other with four counts of assault, the Army said.
In October, the Army's Installation Management Command replaced the Fort Myer CDC's management team, and a continuing investigation “found background issues with a number of employees,” the Army said.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we removed those employees and temporarily closed the facility, moving students to the Cody CDC (also located on Fort Myer)," Sumpter said in a statement. "An investigation was ordered to determine whether background checks were properly done at the time these employees were hired, and whether required procedures were followed. That investigation has just begun."
Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement that it’s a fundamental responsibility to ensure the highest quality of care for the children of our men and women in uniform, many of whom rely on us to care for their children while deployed."
The initial findings of flawed security checks and possible physical abuse "are not only troubling, they are unacceptable, and we will make certain that adequate policies and procedures are in place, and that they are strictly followed and fully enforced,” McHugh said.
In his statement, Panetta said that "military children are precious members of our DoD family. As a department, protecting our service members and their families is paramount.”
“That includes doing everything we can to provide for the safety of children attending CDCs throughout the department, and ensuring they are provided with the highest quality care by dedicated professionals,” Panetta said.