By: Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. I’m glad to report two recent developments that will strengthen safety for our children in the Commonwealth. There have been significant discrepencies in child services this past year; one being the serious challenges at the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and the Department of Children and Families.
State Auditor Suzanne Bump released a report on March 27, 2013, which among other things found gaps in criminal background checks on employees, at residential daycare facilities and few corrections to health and safety inspection violations on the part of license holders, and little inspection follow up, few unannounced inspections and no checking license addresses against the sex offender registry on the part of EEC.
One of these private day care facilities was located in Methuen and revealed that a Level 2 registered sex offender lived at the same address. The EEC did not periodically compare day care addresses against the addresses convicted sex offenders must provide to their local police departments.
Although the license was immediately revoked, I requested a meeting with Department of Early Education and Care Commissioner Weber and immediately filed legislation to tighten background check requirements, increase state oversight, and introduce fines and license suspensions for facilities that fail to perform checks and correct violations. The Department of Early Education and Care has made a number of regulation changes to address these inadequacies.
The Department now requires fingerprint-based checks of national and state criminal history databases and Sex Offender Registry Information (SORI) checks from the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB).
These new background record checks will be required for persons seeking EEC licensure, certification or approval; employees, volunteers, and interns for EEC licensed, approved, or funded programs; household members and those regularly on the premises of family child care homes; in-home non-relative EEC-funded caregivers; adoptive and foster parents and their household members; and transportation providers on behalf of any EEC licensed, approved, or funded program.
Only SORI checks will be required for EEC funded informal relative caregivers. CORI, DCF and fingerprint-based checks, with certain exceptions, will be conducted every three years and SORI checks will be conducted periodically. In certain circumstances, programs may make conditional offers of employment while awaiting the results of fingerprint-based checks. My conversations and work continues with the Department on Early Education to ensure the safety of children.
The safety of children has come under scrutiny more recently in regard to supervision and caseloads at the Department of Children and Families. Previously, the Department of Children and Families allowed people with felony records to become foster parents and care for our most vulnerable and endangered kids. Recently, the State Senate passed a Supplemental Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 that included an amendment I voted in favor of. The amendment places a six month hold on any new foster care placements in families with members that have been convicted of a felony, unless the Department of Children and Families can produce a written finding that determines that such a placement is necessary and not harmful. The amendment also calls for the Office of the Child Advocate to examine any previous placements of children in the same situation.
The amendment passed the Senate by a 32-5 vote. The bill now moves on to a conference committee where it will be finalized in conjunction with the House’s version of the Supplemental Budget.