Suspected cases of child abuse in Hawaii have very different protocols depending on whether the individuals involved are enlisted in the military or are civilians. When someone suspects that a child of a civilian is being abused, they are required to report it immediately to Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS then investigates the claim and can remove the child from the abusive environment if it feels the child is in danger. However, when part of the military community, such as teachers or medical professionals, suspect that a child of an enlisted individual is being abused, military law requires them to only report it to the individual’s supervisor. In some cases, CPS never finds out about the suspected abuse, which has led to devastating results.
In 2005, a 5-year-old girl named Talia Williams died following seven months of abuse by her father, an army soldier, and her stepmother. Her almost daily beatings occurred on the grounds of Schofield Barracks within military housing and finally culminated in her death. Following Talia’s death, an investigation into the incident revealed that numerous people in the military community, including military law enforcement, physicians, teachers and counselors, had all suspected that the child was being abused. Some of these individuals even followed proper protocol and reported the abuse to the father’s supervisor or a Department of Defense (DoD) representative. However, the DoD does not have the power to remove a child from a home, only CPS has the power and authority to take that action. In Talia’s case, action was never taken, resulting in her untimely death.
To prevent this from occurring again, Hawaii Senator Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act called “Talia’s Law”. If passed, this amendment would require military individuals to report suspected cases of abuse to the Department of Defense’s Family Advocacy Program, the state’s child welfare department as well as the individual’s supervisor. In remarks during the introduction of Talia’s Law, Senator Hirono stated, “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…. 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.” The proposed amendment has been sent to the Secretary of Defense and to Hawaii’s four Congressional representatives for review.
Davis Levin Livingston filed suit on behalf of Talia’s mother Tarshia Williams and successfully secured a $2 million settlement from the Department of Defense. It was the firm’s investigation in preparation for the suit that led to the realization that although Talia’s death was reported by multiple individuals none had reported it to CPS. The firm lobbied along with Tashia Williams to have legislation like Talia’s Law passed. They are intent, not just on seeking compensation for a government loophole that allowed a child to die but also on closing that loophole so that this situation never occurs again.