June 16, 2015

With Talia’s Law Amendment To Defense Bill, Hirono Fights To Protect Children From Abuse On Our Military Bases

Talia’s Law Amendment Seeks To Close The Loophole That Allowed Talia To Slip Through Child Abuse Safety Net

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday on the Senate floor, Senator Mazie K. Hirono shared the heartbreaking story of Talia Williams, a five year old girl who died after months of abuse at the hands of her father and stepmother, to introduce “Talia’s Law” as an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

From Senator Hirono’s floor speech:

“I am hopeful that, by requiring such dual reporting, no military connected children will remain in abusive homes because information never made it to the right person.  There were many mistakes made in Talia’s case. Some of those mistakes are of the type that no law might rectify – reluctance to get involved in the affairs of others. Reluctance to implicate abuse.  Perhaps fear of repercussions or out of respect for a member’s service and personal affability. However, in a case like Talia’s more should have been done, and could have been, if only the right people were made aware of the situation. I hope that we do not continue to ignore this one glaring reporting loophole, leaving in place a hole in our safety net wide enough to miss the torture and untimely death of a child like Talia.”

Talia Williams was five years old when she died after months of almost daily beatings by her father, a former solider at Schofield Barracks.  At the time, members of the military community at Schofield Barracks saw evidence of the brutal beatings Talia was suffering but failed to report the abuse to Child Welfare Services. Senator Hirono’s Talia’s Law would close the loophole that allowed Talia to slip through our child abuse safety net by establishing a legal requirement that any military connected, federally mandated reporter with credible evidence or suspicion of child abuse notify both the Department of Defense’s Family Advocacy Program, as well as the appropriate state’s child welfare department. Talia’s Law would eliminate the practice of having only one Reporting Point of Contact, instead immediately notifying state departments with the authority to remove a child of any alleged abuse while also making the proper reports to DOD and FAP officials.

In the coming weeks, Senator Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce a standalone version of Talia’s Law.

Watch Senator Hirono’s floor speech here.

Read the full remarks below, as prepared for delivery.

Mr. President, I rise today to make my colleagues aware of the tragic circumstances that led to the untimely death of 5 yr. old Talia Williams, and an amendment I have introduced that seeks to close the loophole that allowed Talia to slip through our child abuse safety net.

            In 2005 Talia Williams moved to Hawaii to live with her father, Naeem Williams, and his wife, Talia’s stepmother, Delilah Williams. Mr. Williams was in the military, stationed at Schofield Barracks. Mr. Williams’ defense attorney argued that Mr. Williams was ill equipped to care for his daughter. That may be true. What we know for a fact, though, is that Talia Williams suffered 7 months of near constant abuse at the hands of her father and stepmother. This torture ended on July 16, 2005, when Mr. Williams hit Talia so hard it left his fist imprinted on her chest, and killed her.

            Mr. Williams was convicted of murdering his daughter last year, and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Her stepmother, Delilah Williams, was given a reduced sentence of twenty years in prison for providing testimony against her husband.

            Tarshia Williams, Talia’s mother, sued the military in 2010 for the death of her daughter. Her case was settled earlier this year, with the Department of Defense agreeing to a $2 million settlement for not doing enough to save Talia Williams.

            In the course of these two proceedings, it became clear that Talia Williams could have been saved if one thing occurred: reporting the abuse to Hawaii’s Child Welfare Services branch (CPS).

Through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the State of Hawaii, the Department of Defense established a system in which Hawaii’s Child Welfare Services would be “the agency primarily responsible for intake, investigation, and the provision of protective services as deemed necessary to abused children within the State of Hawaii,” including the children of military families both on and off base. Under statute and reiterated in the MOU, only Hawaii’s state agencies had the authority to take emergency custody and order foster care replacement for children without the consent of a parent.  But this could only happen if officials in Hawaii knew about the abuse.

            In Talia’s case, a number of people were aware of her maltreatment. Yet no report was received by the Report Point of Contact, who was the person on base mandated to report to Hawaii’s CPS.

The court in Tarshia Williams’ civil suit found that military law enforcement, the doctors who treated Talia, and at least one or two family counselors had reason to suspect that violence was occurring in the Williams home. At least one person on base directly reported to the family advocacy program her concerns for Talia’s wellbeing. No action was taken. Talia remained in the home while time and again law enforcement personnel and others were called to investigate, or received reports of abuse, but not enough was done to remove her from her home.

            This lack of action was, and is, unacceptable. No one followed up on Talia’s case to the degree that we all should expect. Information about the abuse she lived through never reached the Army Provost, who under that MOU with the state of Hawaii, was the single person required to alert Child Welfare Services. And Talia died.

This loophole, which puts us in a position of hoping and trusting that information of abuse makes it to the Reporting Point of Contact, must be addressed.

            My amendment would fix this problem by establishing a legal requirement that any federally mandated reporter with credible evidence or suspicion of child abuse notify both the DOD’s Family Advocacy Program, as well as the appropriate state’s child welfare department.

This amendment would eliminate the bottleneck of having only one Reporting Point of Contact. Instead, mandatory reporters—which include teachers, doctors, law enforcement and others—must directly report such evidence or suspicion both up the chain of command, and also over to the appropriate State authorities.

I am hopeful that, by requiring such dual reporting, no military connected children will remain in abusive home because information never made it to the right person.

            There were many mistakes made in Talia’s case. Some of those mistakes are of the type that no law might rectify – reluctance to get involved in the affairs of others. Reluctance to implicate abuse.  Perhaps fear of repercussions or out of respect for a member’s service and personal affability. However, in a case like Talia’s more should have been done, and could have been, if only the right people were made aware of the situation. I hope that we do not continue to ignore this one glaring reporting loophole, leaving in place a hole in our safety net wide enough to miss the torture and untimely death of a child like Talia.

I recognize that time on the Defense Authorization Act is short. I’m sure the Department of Defense shares my concerns on this issue, and I look forward to working with the department and my colleagues to close this loophole.