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Sex offenders found living in child care, foster homes

SEATTLE – A new state audit found 28 sex offenders lived in state-regulated or subsidized child care or foster care homes between 2002 and 2012, and one sex offender worked as a high school janitor undetected for nine years.

The performance review found that all those problems could have been prevented, if everyone was strictly following state laws. It also recommended several ways the state can do a better job protecting children from sex offenders in such facilities.

Mindy Chambers, a spokeswoman for the auditor’s office, on Friday commended state agencies for taking quick action to improve their procedures when they learned of the problems.

“The most important thing is that children are protected,” Chambers said. “I think everybody knows that.”

Lawmakers said the audit makes it clear that more needs to be done to protect children.

Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said he found it deeply concerning that only teachers and other certificated school employees such as librarians and counselors were being regularly checked against lists of sex offenders.

There has been a state law since 2005 requiring the checking of all school employees against the Washington State Patrol’s database of sex offenders.

“I appreciate the fact that the auditor did this and caught the error. The fact that they only uncovered one (school) employee with a sex offense is somewhat good news but without a doubt, one is too many,” Dammeier said.

The janitor caught by the audit had passed a background check when he was hired in 2000 but was convicted two years later of voyeurism and continued to work in the school, and no one in law enforcement reached out to the district or state education department to alert them.

The audit also faulted the Washington State Patrol for not passing along conviction data from other states.

The auditors contacted the state Department of Corrections to find out if any of the offenders found through the audit were under state supervision while living in the child care or foster homes. Five were under supervision at the time, but none was suspected of breaking the law while living near children.

The auditors contacted the state education department before they completed the audit. Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn instituted some policy changes to fix the problem and added checks of classified employees to the work of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction personnel who investigate teachers and other certificated school workers.

Dammeier said he was glad the superintendent’s staff took ownership of the problem and quickly worked to correct it.

“I’m glad we’re talking about this as a gross bureaucratic oversight instead of an investigation afterward when a child had been molested,” he added.

Of the 28 other sex offenders found through the audit, 17 lived in places where child care was provided and the rest were living in foster homes. In 24 of the cases, offenders lived there undetected because the child care providers did not inform the agencies that offenders lived there, the audit showed.

Of the 17 in child care homes, only two were Department of Early Learning licensed family home child cares. Since the audit, the department has revoked the licenses of one of them and the other went out of business, said department spokeswoman Amy Blondin.

Another 11 cases involved homes where foster kids were living, including one case where a former foster child returned home after committing crimes. In several other cases, the sex offender and the care provider were related. The audit reported that DSHS reacted quickly, revoking foster care licenses and removing children from the homes.

The agency also changed its procedures to more regularly compare the addresses of registered sex offenders with the addresses of all the people who care for foster kids, as well as the elderly and people with developmental disabilities.

Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said he expected to propose a bill next year to more closely watch unlicensed day care homes for people who shouldn’t be living or working near kids.

“We have our work cut out for us in the state of Washington,” Carrell said.

He previously focused his lawmaking activities on social service fraud but this audit inspired him to look further.

“My approach for next year will be more comprehensive,” Carrell said. “I need to look at other ways that kids may be taken advantage of.”

DSHS and the Department of Early Learning are working together to improve the way they check applicants and monitor providers, the audit reported. The agencies also have developed procedures to flag provider files so they cannot slip back into the system without a careful check to see that they are obeying laws and procedures.