GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 1, 2013

State eyes checking of sex offender, daycare addresses

By Colleen Quinn
State House News Service

---- — BOSTON — Reeling from a state auditor’s report last week that found 119 matches across the state between addresses of certified child day-care providers and registered Level 2 or 3 sex offenders, state early education and public safety officials plan to develop a joint plan to institute a statewide system in which the addresses of all Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders are crosschecked against licensed child care programs.

Unlike 17 other states, Massachusetts currently has no statutory or regulatory requirements for state child care agencies, such as the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), to match registered sex offender addresses to licensed child care providers’ addresses, according to the report released last week from State Auditor Suzanne Bump.

Bump and state lawmakers are now calling on EEC to implement the address check in response to the audit that initially found 119 addresses of registered sex offenders matched locations of licensed child care programs. In their response to the audit, EEC officials said they planned to implement a system.

Acting Commissioner Thomas Weber said EEC has been in touch with public safety officials to start the process.

“We are going to be running regular cross references of our provider list, and those addresses against the sex offender registry database,” Weber said, “so we continue to monitor any occasions when children in the care of our providers may be coming in contact with registered sex offenders.”

Weber said the department is developing a new process.

“We are going to undertake this process, and we should undertake this process,” he said. “It has not been required of us, but common sense tells us we should, and we will.”

The Boston Police Department routinely compares child care provider addresses obtained from the EEC database to the addresses of registered Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders in their jurisdiction, and then contacts EEC to alert them to any matches, according to the auditor’s report.

Lawmakers commended the move and the auditor’s report that led to the changes.

Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry commended Bump for uncovering “deficiencies” in the early education system and touted legislation she filed aimed at ensuring “safe, healthy and nurturing” family home care settings. Under her bill, licensors would be required to perform quarterly check-ins, without notice, to ensure that homes are in safe condition and that household members and frequent visitors are identified.

The state auditor’s office, which was conducting a routine audit of the department, immediately alerted EEC officials about the 119 address matches. EEC officials then investigated and discovered 54 sex offenders’ addresses overlapped with child care providers, according to EEC. An aide in Bump’s office incorrectly stated Wednesday to the News Service that 119 sex offenders were living at the same addresses as child care programs.

Of the 119 initial address matches, 16 involved programs that were closed; 39 were addresses or programs located on community college campuses or places of employment where the identified sex offender was either attending school or working; and 10 had no match for licensed programs at any of the up to three addresses provided.

EEC revoked the licenses of four family child care providers — located in Leominster, Methuen, and two in Springfield. Those providers failed to report or disclose to EEC that a registered sex offender was, or had been living on the premises, according to EEC officials.

EEC officials on Thursday pointed out that at the four locations where licenses were revoked, none of the crimes the registered sex offenders were convicted of involved children.

“That does not make them any less of a concern,” Weber said.

EEC officials believe no children were harmed at any of the locations investigated.

“With respect to the remaining 54 addresses, EEC was able to determine that in several instances, the child care provider and the registered sex offender resided in the same building but in different units and at different times,” EEC officials responded in the auditor’s report. “In these instances EEC directed the licensee to complete a safety plan for the children in care.”

The audit compared the most recently reported home addresses of all Level 2 and Level 3 registered sex offenders to all licensed child care provider addresses from July 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2011.

“It is important to note that the addresses included in the Massachusetts SORB database are self-reported by offenders, and it is possible that some addresses listed in the SORB database may be inaccurate or out of date. Accordingly, although all necessary steps were taken to reasonably ensure the accuracy of our analysis, it is possible that some sex offenders many have been excluded from our match list,” the report stated.

The 50 child care providers discovered to live in the same building, but different units than registered sex offenders were required to have safety plans in place, developed in conjunction with EEC, to ensure children have no contact and are not at risk, according to Weber.

A provider’s license is not revoked if they have proximity to a registered sex offender, because people do not have control over who moves into their building, Weber said.

People only can control who lives within their unit, he added.

“People are transient; circumstances change over time,” Weber said. “Those people providing care to children who may live in proximity to a registered sex offender which is beyond their control, still need to make provisions to ensure that the children are safe.”

According to the auditor’s findings, the Department of Early Education and Care also failed to do annual unannounced visits at residential child care facilities, which they are required to do by law. Many states require two unannounced visits per year, according to Bump’s office.

The auditor also found EEC was not enforcing Criminal Offender Record Information check requirements, and failed to ensure licensed child care providers performed the required CORI checks on their staff when they were hired, as well as rechecked every three years. Out of a sampling of 39 group child care providers, 10 percent were missing CORI checks or had outdated checks.