EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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April 7, 2013

New bill calls for background checks at child centers

New legislation soon to be filed would increase criminal background and sex offender search requirements for those operating licensed early education child care centers in Massachusetts.

The bill, written by state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, tightens the background check requirements, increases state oversight and introduces fines and license suspensions for facilities that fail to perform checks and correct violations. It comes in the wake of a state auditor’s report that found lax oversight by the state Department of Early Education and Care over the thousands licensed child care facilities in Massachusetts.

According to Early Education and Care Department records, there are more than 2,000 centers in the Lowell area and Essex County alone.

O’Connor Ives sent a letter to Thomas Weber, acting commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care, last week asking for a meeting to discuss state Auditor Suzanne Bump’s March 27 report, which among other things found spotty criminal background checks on employees 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 critical aspect is the need for CORI checks on all staff and household members, not just those likely to have unsupervised contact with children,” O’Connor Ives said. “If violations are found, there needs to be immediate corrective action from the facility, with followup from the EEC. And if it’s not corrected, then their licenses to operate should be taken away.”

O’Connor Ives said Weber’s office responded and scheduled a meeting for April 16.

Bump’s report indicated her office found 119 instances of sex offender addresses, listed either as work or residence addresses, matching the address of a licensed early education child care facility. After investigating those addresses further, the auditors found that all but four matched addresses meant either an offender worked in the same building, but not for the child care business, or no longer lived or worked at that address.

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