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The Department of Early Education and Care has failed to take sufficient steps to assure sex offenders aren't working at licensed day care centers, the state auditor has found.
In a scathing report (PDF) released Wednesday, investigators from Auditor Suzanne Bump's office found 119 cases in which the address of a registered sex offender matched that of a licensed child care facility.
A subsequent investigation by the EEC determined that in most of those cases, children were not in any danger. The agency revoked the licenses of four providers who were aware a sex offender lived in the same building but didn't report that information.
The report also said that in some cases, the EEC had failed to ensure licensed child care providers were performing required criminal background checks on employees.
"No parent who drops their child off at day care should have to worry about the safety of their son or daughter," Bump said in a statement.
Bump noted that there isn't any state requirement that early education officials conduct Sex Offender Registry Information checks of child care facility operators, workers or people living in an at-home day care.
Bump is recommending the state require the sex offender registry checks be made mandatory, like the Criminal Offender Record Information checks that are now required.
In a response included in the audit, the Department of Early Education and Care said it immediately launched an investigation and sent staff to each of the 119 addresses.
The investigation found that of the 119 addresses, 16 had closed, 39 were located on community college campuses or places of employment where the identified sex offender was attending school or working, and 10 had no match for licensed programs. The closed day care centers were located in Worcester, Taunton and Brockton.
Of the remaining 54 addresses, the department found that in several instances, the child care provider and the registered sex offender resided in the same building but in different units and at different times.
In those instances, the department told the day care provider to create a plan to ensure the safety of children in their care.
Acting Commissioner Tom Weber said the department has already addressed most of the report's findings and is working to resolve the rest.
He said he's asked the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to make sure the early education department can run periodic checks of licensed care providers against information from the Sex Offender Registry Board.
"The safety of children in licensed care is the Department of Early Education and Care's top priority," Weber said.
The audit comes a little more than two weeks after Sherri Killins stepped down as the state's early education commissioner amid questions about her participation in a 300-hour school superintendent training program.
A subsequent review by the state education secretary found no "serious wrongdoing" by Killins.
Killins, who lived in New Haven, Conn., was participating in the internship program in the central Massachusetts town of Ware, raising questions about whether it distracted her from her nearly $200,000-a-year state job.
Gov. Deval Patrick, who strongly defended Killins, is pushing for a $131 million increase in funding for early education. Patrick's plan calls for whittling down the state's wait list for child care services and improving the quality of preschool education.
In an unrelated case, convicted sex offender John Burbine, 49, of Wakefield, pleaded not guilty in December to new charges he sexually assaulted 13 children, including one just 8 days old, at his wife's unlicensed day care from August 2010 to August 2012.
Burbine was a Level 1 sex offender, meaning he was considered the least likely to reoffend. State officials said Burbine and his wife had applied for a child care license but didn't receive one.
Some lawmakers said the case pointed to "deep flaws" in the way the state classifies and tracks sex offenders.
This program aired on March 27, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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