Audit: State let hundreds of criminals provide child care

from: freep.com

July 22, 2008
By Dawson Bell
Free Press

LANSING – Michigan’s oversight of child care providers was so ridden with deficiencies that state regulators licensed hundreds of convicted sex offenders, child abusers and criminals during a three-year period ending in 2006, according to an audit released today by the state auditor general.

The Department of Human Services authorized 1,900 unsuitable day care providers during the period placing 4,600 children at risk, auditors found.

The audit did not cite any specific instances of abuse to children in day care committed by the inappropriately authorized providers.

Among those authorized, auditors found 428 people who had been identified by the department as having “substantiated histories of child abuse” and 712 providers with unsuitable criminal histories, including 28 with convictions for murder, rape and assault. The department also authorized 31 day care providers who were, at the time of approval, registered sex offenders, auditors found.

The audit found that the DHS did not routinely check the state sex offender registry for child care applicants. The department mistakenly believed registered sex offenders were listed on another crime database kept by the state, said deputy auditor general Scott Strong.

Nor did the department check the state’s online prison record system to see if child care applicants had been in prison for crimes, according to the audit.

In fact, three people who were granted approval for day care were in prison at the time. They then were paid $3,730 for day care services while incarcerated, the audit found.

Also, 301 providers had records of child abuse or neglect when they were licensed or registered with the state. Another 127 were accused of child abuse or neglect after they were enrolled or licensed, the audit found.

The Department of Human Services began correcting the cited problems in April of 2007, the audit said. DHS suspended authorization for unsuitable providers who were actively providing day care during the audit period and revised its procedures for reviewing criminal histories for providers, according to the audit. Auditors made a total of 14 recommendations for change to DHS, all of which were agreed to by the agency.

The harshly critical report on oversight of day care comes on the heels of an agreement earlier this month by DHS to hire about 700 new employees to improve its regulation of foster care. That agreement was reached after a New York-based child advocacy organization sued the state over shortcomings in foster care, leading to delays in adoption, abuse and the deaths of several children.

Jack Kresnak, president of Michigan’s Children, which advocates children’s issues, said it’s a travesty that the state put so many children at risk, and he blamed state cutbacks for the problems cited in the audit. He said approving 166,000 day care centers is an impossible workload for the Department of Human Services staff.

“It’s a consequence of devastating the state work force over the last seven or eight years,” Kresnak said.

He added that the state is spending too much on prisons at the expense of social services, particularly because of longer sentences written into law in the past decade.

DHS officials were not immediately available for comment this morning.

Staff writer Chris Christoff contributed to this report.

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