Further Abuse Reported at Army Day Care Center


The Army has suspended another day care worker for allegedly hitting a child at the base in Northern Virginia where two day care workers face criminal charges and officials discovered another 31 possessed criminal records, Army officials said Thursday.

The latest incident occurred Wednesday at the Cody Child Development Center (CDC) at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., when an employee of the Cody CDC reported seeing another caregiver strike a child, the Army officials said. The worker suspected of mistreatment was immediately removed from the facility and suspended pending an investigation.

The Cody CDC is an older facility adjacent to the Fort Myer Child Development Center, where the two workers were arrested in September after allegedly abusing children. The Army has since suspended another 38 caregivers pending outstanding background checks, according to a report by the Washington Post.

The Army has temporarily closed the $17 million Fort Myer CDC that served more than 400 children ranging in age from six weeks to 12 years old as the investigation continues. The children cared for there have been transferred to the Cody CDC.

An Army audit and review following the arrests showed that 31 other employees at the Fort Myer CDC had criminal records, including two for misdemeanor sex charges.

“It is unbelievable to me that the people running this center still have their jobs,” a mother who decided to remove her daughter from the Cody CDC told the Washington Post.  “We are not getting a straight answer from anyone."

Army inspectors knew of management and personnel problems at the Fort Myer, Va., day care center before authorities charged the two workers with assault after allegedly mistreating toddlers, military officials said Thursday.

“There were things that were being corrected” in the daily operations of the Fort Myer CDC when a separate parent’s complaint in September led to an investigation by federal marshals that resulted in the arrests, said Laurie Dette, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Installations Management Command (IMCOM) in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Dette said that IMCOM conducted a routine and unannounced inspection of the Fort Myer CDC last August.

“Some gaps were found in how things were being processed,” Dette said.

He did not specify what the inspectors found. Dette said “remedies were being put in place” when the assault arrests were made in late September.

The Fort Myer CDC is the largest day care center in the military, located next to the Pentagon. Fort Myer is home to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army’s chief of staff. The day care center investigation has rocked the military’s personnel system and triggered “intense interest at the highest levels,” including the White House, an Army spokesman said.

Authorities initially arrested three day care workers, but charges were subsequently dropped against one caregiver, said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Rebecca Smallwood-Briscoe, 57, was charged with five counts of misdemeanor assault. She allegedly "pulled a 2-year-old boy across the floor by one leg several times," and "hit the face/chin area of a two-year-old boy with her fist,” according to court documents. Smallwood-Briscoe faces a bench trial on March 12 before Magistrate Judge Theresa C. Buchanan, Carr said.

Sharon Blakeney, 47, of Seat Pleasant, Md., was charged with four counts of misdemeanor assault for allegedly hitting a two-year-old boy on the head and holding "a white, sticky rodent trap full of bugs right next to his face." Blakeney faces a March 19 jury trial before Judge Buchanan, Carr said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered an investigation into the hiring and training practices at all CDCs and youth facilities in all the services worldwide -- a total of more than 900 facilities serving 500,000 children on a daily basis. Panetta ordered the service secretaries to report back to him by Jan. 21.

Pentagon and Army officials have questioned how 31 caregivers with criminal records could slip through what was described as a lengthy and painstaking vetting process involving military and civilian oversight.

“That’s what we’re still investigating,” said Dette, the IMCOM spokeswoman.

Employees may be hired before the vetting is complete, Dette said. However, they are then supposed to be subjected to “line of sight supervision” by management in the presence of children until the background checks are completed.

Potential employees at Army day care centers fill out lengthy forms including references that are then checked out by management at the CDC and the base Criminal Investigation Division. All of the material gathered in the initial screening, to include fingerprints, is then forwarded to the Office of Personnel Management, which runs checks with the FBI’s massive Criminal Justice Information Services database.

The results of the entire screening process then are reviewed at the base by a Process Review Board to make a final determination on employment. If the vetting has turned up any “derogatory information,” the applicant may not be hired but a senior Defense Department official stressed that “not all derogatory information is disqualifying.”

Dette said IMCOM was looking at possible changes to make the screening process more efficient.

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