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Some folks with alarming backgrounds are working Oregon day care centers and homes

COURTESY PHOTO: HELLO I'M NIK FOR UNSPLASH - An audit by the Oregon Secretary of State recommended improvements in background checks for child care providers.

Some state agencies are allowing people with worrisome backgrounds to take care of Oregon's tiniest citizens, Oregon's Secretary of State found in an audit.

"While the vast majority of state-approved child care providers do not have criminal convictions, auditors found agencies have approved some providers with histories of concerning convictions or substantiated child abuse or neglect allegations," Secretary of State Bev Clarno's office said in releasing the audit.

"Background checks are not as stringent as parents might expect," the report said.

"Passing a background check does not necessarily mean the person has not committed alarming crimes or has not perpetrated child abuse or neglect," according to the audit report.

Oregon's Early Learning Division immediately countered with its own statement that noted "The Office of Child Care has already made some changes in response to the audit process, including an addition to the list of crimes that permanently disqualify a person from being enrolled in the Central Background Registry."

The division said it "agreed with all of the (Secretary of State) recommendations for system improvement."

Finding affordable, quality child care is a struggle for most families. There are at least eight children for every infant or toddler slot in day care in Oregon, a 2019 Oregon State University study found. But, despite the shortage, the goal is to make certain child care is safe for kids.

Federal regulations require "enhanced" background checks for anyone who works in licensed childcare.

The rules bar people with certain types of criminal convictions, such as being a registered sex offender.

The audit found the Oregon Department of Education and the Department of Human Services, the two agencies charged with conducting background checks, had given the green light to some child care workers convicted of crimes that would disqualify them under new federal rules.

The Early Learning Division said there are more than 50,000 individuals in the state's Central Background Registry and that it "processes thousands of applications each year."

While the audit concedes that both agencies face information system deficiencies, it found approved providers with troubling histories, including long records of felony and misdemeanor convictions and providers with records of child abuse or neglect.

The audit found, for example, 14 state-approved child care providers who had a registered sex offender reportedly living in the home where care was provided, which is a disqualifying factor.

The audit found the state's complex rules and limitations for the sex offender registry makes it hard for parents to make sure their day care workers are not sex offenders. Among many problems, the sex offender web site has "alarming delays" in posting.

The report recommends several improvements, including having a single Oregon agency do background checks for child care providers. It also recommends that agency should have a consistent list of disqualifying crimes for providers.

The Secretary of State's 29-page report was aptly titled "Oregon Should Improve Child Safety by Strengthening Child Care Background Checks and the State's Sex Offender Registry."

Early Learning System Director Miriam Calderon said in a statement, "We welcomed this review in identifying areas for system improvements and agency coordination to further ensure children's safety in care."

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