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Fort Myer child-care center loses accreditation

As DoD finishes audit, Army secretary seeks change in hiring procedure

Feb. 22, 2013 - 03:02PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 22, 2013 - 03:02PM  |  
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The child care center at Fort Myer, Va. — just a mile from the Pentagon — has lost its national accreditation because of another reported incident of possible abuse.

Army officials confirmed the National Association for the Education of Young Children revoked the accreditation of Fort Myer Cody Child Development Center on Wednesday "based on an incident where a child care provider is alleged to have hit a child with a cushion," said Army spokesman George Wright.

The incident was reported by another child-care worker, and the provider in question was immediately removed from the center and is under investigation, Wright said.

"While this does not in any way affect [the center's] operations, the Army is nevertheless troubled by the loss of Cody's accreditation, and is appealing to the Council for NAEYC Accreditation," Wright said.

Currently, 97 percent of Defense Department child-care centers are accredited by a national organization, said DoD spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde. The remaining centers are working toward accreditation, which is required by DoD regulation.

The latest problems at Fort Myer come just as a Pentagon-wide review of 44,000 records of employees at military child-care centers has wrapped up. That review, which was prompted by earlier allegations of abuse at Fort Myer's child-care centers, has found that proper background checks are being conducted across DoD, Hull-Ryde said.

The audit also found no cases of employees "with mandatory disqualifying background information" working with children, she said. That includes any conviction for a sex crime, an offense involving a child victim or a drug felony.

Background checks are initiated when an employee is hired, Hull-Ryde noted.

But Army Secretary John McHugh has directed a servicewide change in hiring procedures for child-care personnel, Wright said Friday. Prospective employees with derogatory information in their national or local background check, no matter how minor, must be reviewed by a Program Review Board. The Army inspector general and Army Audit Agency are also reviewing policies and procedures to ensure better management and oversight of all Army CDCs.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the DoD-wide review in December after potential problems with background investigations were identified at the Fort Myer child-care centers.

Two child-care workers at Fort Myer's T-482 center were accused last fall of assaulting children. An ongoing Army investigation has led to the removal of several employees, including the CDC director, who are on administrative leave pending completion of the investigation, Wright said.

Based on the DoD findings, defense officials will strengthen the policy to highlight "prompt and consistent adjudication" following completed background checks, Hull-Ryde said.

The services also will increase oversight during two of the four unannounced annual inspections of the facilities and programs, she said, which include ensuring background checks have been conducted and are current.

In addition to the mandatory disqualifiers, agencies can use their discretion in evaluating whether people convicted of other crimes should not be hired, or should be fired if the conviction occurs after they are hired.

But some parents of children who attend or previously attended the Fort Myer centers want to know more about what their children may have been exposed to as a result of "hiring discrepancies" found in a review of records.

The Army review resulted in 38 employees being reassigned from their duties at the post's child development centers, according to a Dec. 28 letter to parents sent by Col. Fern Sumpter, commander of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

Sumpter noted that officials "are not at liberty to discuss the exact nature of the discrepancies" linked to the 38 employees.

The Associated Press previously reported that criminal convictions were found in some employees' backgrounds, including fourth-degree sex assault and drug use.

"Parents have no way of knowing if a convicted pedophile took care of their children," said Rock Rockenbach, a retired Air Force attorney.

His children were cared for at Fort Myer for six years, until his youngest started school last fall, before the allegations became public. He has received no official communication about the Fort Myer situation, and found out about a town hall meeting only through unofficial means.

"I'm not asking for information on who is accused of doing what," Rockenbach said. "But they're saying the Privacy Act prevents them from telling me, ‘The adverse information ranges from this to this, and none of those employees had contact with your child.' Why wouldn't you tell that to people?"

Army spokesman Wright said Army regulations require child-care staffers and leaders to "make themselves available to talk with parents and discuss any issues and concerns. Any ongoing investigations may limit what can be disclosed."

Wright said town hall meetings have been held, parents of children at the center have been notified, and parents of children involved in any known or alleged incident have been contacted and provided information, he said.

"It's important for folks to put these parents' minds at rest," said Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children's Alliance. She said officials could answer general questions about whether there were any sex offenses, or any convictions for physical child abuse or child neglect.

When asked whether there is an overarching DoD policy for notifying parents in such instances, Hull-Ryde deferred to the individual services.

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