22 Month Old Air Force Baby Dies of Neglect – In Base Housing
A 26 year-old Air Force Spouse is in jail after allegedly letting her 22-month old daughter die of malnutrition and neglect, say officials in Fort Worth, Texas. Her two other girls, one three years old and one aged six months, are in intensive care recovering from severe neglect.
Tiffany Nicole Klapheke, originally from Kentucky, was married to an airman and stationed at Dyess Air Force Bace, Texas.
Klapheke told a local television station, KTXS, that with three young children at home, she grew depressed and suicidal while her husband was deployed overseas. She also alleges that no one from the command, family support group or anywhere else called her or checked on her or asked if she needed anything.
“I know people hate me and I don’t understand, but it was not my intention. I just wanted a break for my own sanity, that’s all. I didn’t mean for it to go so far,” she told a KTXS reporter in a tearful interview from the jail where she is being held on a $500,000 bond. “I made a terrible mistake and I know I’ll be paying for it the rest of my life.”
The post, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, the home of the 7th Bomber Wing, does have a child development center on the post. The Dyess Child Development Center assigns priority to children based on their parental employment status. Single parents on active duty receive first priority. 2nd priority goes to active duty military members with spouses who are either employed full-time or who are full-time students. Children of active-duty servicemembers or DoD contractors whose spouses are not working receive third priority, called Category 3.
The Child Development Center accepts children from age six weeks to six months. In addition to its full-time care program, the CDC also runs an hourly “drop-off” care operation.
We called the Child Development Center on September 4th and asked about the prospects for placing a 22 month old child in Category 3. Their staff told us that there was currently a waiting list for children under 24 months. Once a child reaches 24 months, “we can take those children almost walk-in,” said the CDC staffer. But the two year-old range is their highest-demand age group. Tamryn Klapheke was 22 months old when she died. Tiffany Nicole Klapheke very likely could not have gotten a placement at all for her until Tamryn reached age two.
However, there were other resources available: The Air Force Aid Society sponsors a “Give-A-Parent-a-Break Program.” This program provides monthly services for Air Force parents who need a break from the rigors of child care. The program is run on a referral basis: Chaplains, commanders and first sergeants can refer a family to these services.
Military families can also access all kinds of support and referrals from Military OneSource.
Additionally, Ms. Klapheke also had access to the Airman and Family Readiness Center on post, which could also have referred her to support systems around the community.
Aside from the point-blank issue of immediate child care availability, however, there is a broader issue of a woman — an active duty military spouse — who fell through the cracks somehow. Whether the issue was post-partum depression, organic depression not related to post-partum depression, or any other mental health issue, this woman’s children had been neglected for some time.
While rear detachment commanders — those officers who are designated to oversee administrative and logistical issues at home station while the unit main body is deployed — are not day-to-day nose-wipers or babysitters for stressed parents, they do have basic responsibility for the welfare of military families, together with the base commander and, of course, the unit commander stationed forward.
Additionally, major commands generally have informal spousal support networks — frequently headed by the wives of senior officers and NCOs. A major purpose for these family support groups is to provide a safety net and support system for spouses and their children — particularly when the servicemember is deployed.
Somehow, even though the children were severely underweight, and essentially left to dehydrate and starve in their own waste (Tamryn was only 17 and a half pounds when she died and the other two children were placed in intensive care) nobody had seen these children, or if they had seen them, no one had taken notice of their condition.
Even if the day care center on base had slots available immediately, there would still have been a spouse in need.
Mental Health Care Issues
With PTSD issues a high-visibility concern for the military, and with suicides in the military outpacing the ongoing war in Afghanistan as a cause of death, access to mental health care has been a front-burner issue for commands throughout the DoD. Mental health care access has historically been spotty, but does not appear to have been an issue in this case. Dyess Air Force Base has a mental health center on the post itself, that supports both uniformed servicemembers and their dependents. No appointment is necessary — the center is generally able to support walk-ins.
While it’s obvious in hindsight that this woman and her children — living on post — fell through the cracks in the support and health and welfare system, the command appears to have been responsive to the incident: According to a Dyess AFB spokesperson, the 7th Bomb Wing and Dyess Air Force Base commander, has held three town halls in response, attended by family members, senior officer and NCO leadership, family members, family support group representatives, representatives from the key support facilities on post, and the post chaplain. “Base leadership plans to use feedback from these meetings to improve communication and teamwork at Dyess, thereby ensuring that Airmen and their families are being taken care of,” said the Dyess Air Force Base spokesperson.
For the time being, Dyess is not commenting on some of our specific questions, including whether Ms. Klapheke was, indeed, on the telephone roster in the family support group, and whether she had placed herself on a do-not-contact list. Family Support Group organizations are prohibited from contacting family members who elect to be put on the do-not-contact list.
However, since the Klapheke’s were occupying government housing at the time Tamryn and the other children were suffering from neglect, any such refusal can only go so far. Military housing authorities can do health and welfare inspections of military housing. However, few families want to live in an environment where federal bureaucrats would be so intrusive on a routine basis.
The father of the children, Senior Airman Thomas Klapheke, has been returned from overseas. Tiffany Nicole is still in jail. Thomas Klapheke has already updated his Facebook status to “divorced.”
- Parents and spouses: Check on each other. Just because you think you’re doing ok doesn’t mean everyone is. Some people are more fragile and have a harder time coping than others. Cross-reinforce yourselves.
- A phone call isn’t enough. Family support group members need to get eyeball-to-eyeball with spouses and get eyes on children.
- If someone isn’t participating in family support group activities at all, find out why. It could be that this family is getting all the support they need from extended family and other resources. Or it could be that something is wrong. In this case, something was tragically wrong.
- Rear detachment commanders: Take an interest in each family, down to the junior enlisted level. This is where money is the tightest, and where some of these spouses are hardly out of high school themselves — and far from home, sometimes for the first time. These are the spouses with the most limited natural support networks.
- We have been down this road before. The stress of deployment has been demonstrated to correlate strongly with an increase in child abuse and neglect in military families. Rear detachment commanders and their support staff, including DoD civilians, would do well to familiarize themselves with the literature that already exists. In particular, the North Carolina Medical has published a detailed report exploring the vulnerability of military children to child abuse and parental homicide.