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Boston — State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump today called on the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to perform periodic address matches of registered sex offenders to child care providers. The recommendation comes as the result of an audit which found 119 instances where the address listed for Level 2 or Level 3 sex offenders in the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry matched that of an EEC licensed child care provider.
While the audit was still in progress, Auditor Bump brought the address matches to the attention of EEC, and the agency immediately began an investigation of all 119 instances. In four cases, EEC revoked the providers’ licenses because its operators had knowledge of the registered sex offender status but did not report this information to EEC. There is no current requirement that EEC conduct any Sex Offender Registry Information (SORI) checks of or matches of child care facility operators, workers, or people living in an at-home day care.
“No parent who drops their child off at day care should have to worry about the safety of their son or daughter,” Bump said. “The presence of registered sex offenders in such proximity to groups of children is information parents, providers, and the EEC must have and act upon.”
In addition to the currently required Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks on staff and household members, Auditor Bump also called for making SORI checks required. Seventeen other states require SORI checks.
The audit also found that EEC is not ensuring that child care providers are performing the required CORI checks on their staff. In a test of EEC records, CORI checks had either expired or not been conducted for 10 percent of sampled staff. Auditor Bump noted that current EEC policy requires background checks only of staff likely to have unsupervised contact with children. She recommended that background checks are required for all staff.
Auditors also noted that when EEC inspections uncover violations, child care centers are not held to documenting and implementing corrective action plans. In some cases, violations had not been followed up by EEC staff for over two years. Furthermore, in the one-year period of review, EEC did not perform a single unannounced inspection of a residence-based family child care provider. Unannounced inspections are an important oversight function used to ensure provider compliance and are required by state law to be performed annually.
EEC has already taken actions in response to the audit. Rather than the current process of using a random sample, EEC will review the records of all provider personnel during renewal. Having more child care workers subject to background checks is under review. EEC has also changed its policy and will conduct unannounced visits as required.
“While I know that EEC has the best intention to fulfill its mission, this audit shows that more can be done to protect young children,” Bump said. “Unfortunately, there is little margin of error as just one case can have dire consequences.”
EEC is the lead agency of the Commonwealth for administering and providing early education and care programs and services to children and is responsible for the licensure of child care providers. During fiscal year 2011, EEC administered approximately $548 million, of which federal funds totaled approximately $423 million.
The Office of the State Auditor conducts technical and performance assessments of state government’s programs, departments, agencies, authorities, contracts, and vendors. With its reports, the OSA issues recommendations to improve accountability, efficiency, and transparency.
Find the audit of the Department of Early Education and Care here.