Collaboration in Civic Spheres

State finds gaps in sex offender screening at foster homes

by August 8th, 2012

Twenty-eight sex offenders fell between the cracks of state background checks on child care homes between 2002 and 2012, said a state performance audit released last week. “We found that even with required criminal background checks, monitoring and/or regular social worker visits, offenders still lived in child and foster care homes undetected,” the report said. The audit’s purpose was to see if Washington’s sex offender databases could be used to to help monitor state-regulated facilities with children. This was done after similar audits in other states found that a child care provider or caretaker could pass background checks, but could still allow a sex offenders inside a facility without reporting that person to the appropriate regulating agency. Washington has roughly 18,000 registered sex offenders. The 28 sex offenders were living in foster homes unreported by the providers. The audit cross-checked sex offender addresses with the addresses of child care providers to find the 28 on both.

In addition, a janitor at Garfield High School in Seattle, checked with a clear slate in 2000, but then convicted of voyeurism in 2002, wasn’t called to the attention of the school district until nine years later in 2011, according to the report and Mindy Chambers, spokeswoman for the Washington State Auditor’s Office. The school district put the janitor on leave as soon as it found out, and fired him shortly afterwards, the report said.

When the state legislature began appropriating $5 million annually to law agencies to verify the addresses of registered sex offenders, an audit that year found 1,400 offenders, or about eight percent of registered offenders statewide, not at their recorded addresses, resulting in 835 arrests for failing to register properly. In 2010, law officers found 814 offenders not living at their registered addresses, resulting in 487 arrests, the audit said. The 2012 audit looked for sex offenders at foster child care facilities.

In one case, a sex offender returned to live in his former foster home, which housed six foster children. Upon finding on his presence because of the audit, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services closed down the home and is working on revoking the owner’s foster care license. In another case, a sex offender went to live with his mother, who was also a foster caregiver. DSHS stopped sending financial subsidies to her home, the audit said.

The 2012 audit found 13 sex offenders living in state-regulated foster homes and another 15 living in significantly less-regulated foster homes that received state money. The almost unregulated homes are when child is cared for in a family member’s home, a 2010 state audit said. The Washington Department of Early Learning paid nearly 19,000 providers that year with 7,400 licensed or certified by that department. The other 11,600 were exempt from licensing requirements, the 2010 audit said.

DSHS and DEL reacted quickly to each instance of a sex offender found in a foster home, the recent audit report said. But the state could not remove children or revoke a care-giving license in three cases.

In one instance, two sex offenders grew too old to stay in their foster home. After that was discovered, those foster parents agreed not to allow overaged residents who are also sex offenders to stay at their home. In the second case, a sex offender lived in a foster home and then married the adoptive mother of a child at the same foster home. A DSHS investigation concluded the child’s safety was not in jeopardy, and the state has no authority to remove a child without such an indication. In the third case, a sex offender is living in a foster home in which a foster child was adopted by the host family. A DSHS investigation concluded the child’s safety was not in danger, and the agency has no authority to remove a child from an adoptive family without that indication, the audit report said.

The audit also found that the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction did not properly review all school employees between 2005 and 2011 for the possibilities that some could be sex offenders. The OSPI routinely reviewed certified employees such as teachers, counselors and nurses, but had not been doing the state-mandated quarterly reviews of the administrative and maintenance staffs. Administrative and maintenance employees across the state, an estimated 62,000 in the 2010-2011 school year, accounted for 48 percent of of all school employees. Meanwhile, the Washington State Patrol, which provides quarterly sex offender updates to OSPI, did not include out-of-state sex offenders, Chambers said. WSP spokesman Bob rCalkins said one case fell in that crack because of glitch in crime codings, and the problem has been fixed.

On July 25, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn wrote that after the audit, OSPI reviewed records of all current and past education employees 2005-2012 records – roughly 650,000 – and “no instances of convicted sex offenders were found.”

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