Flaws in the State’s Background Check System

Criminal Lawyers in Broward County | William R. Moore Attorney 954-523-5333

An investigation by the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel has revealed that despite a state law requiring background checks of workers at the child care centers, flaws in the systems have allowed thousands of people with criminal records, including violent felonies, to be hired by day care centers throughout the state, Broward criminal attorney Moore has learned.
Even though a Florida state law passed in 1985 requires all employees who have been hired by day care centers in the state to undergo background checks, people who have prior criminal records have fallen through the cracks of the systems due to two loopholes in the law. The first loophole allows employees to begin working at day care centers while their background checks are pending, says Fort Lauderdale criminal lawyer Moore. The length of a person’s background check depends largely on the manner in which the person’s fingerprints have been submitted. Though digital fingerprints can be processed by the state within 24 hours, in cases where the potential employee has inked his or her own fingerprints and sent the fingerprints by mail to the Department of Children and Families, the wait for completion of the background check can take up to six weeks. Officials estimate that approximately half of criminal background applicants submit their applications for a criminal background check using traditional, non-digital fingerprints, Broward criminal lawyer Moore has learned from the results of the investigation. In addition to the wait during the processing period, backlogs at regional DCF offices can add up to an additional two month period in processing the applicant’s criminal background checks. These delays can mean that convicted criminals, including felons and people who have committed crimes against children, can remain working at child care facilities for months while their applications are pending.
The second loophole in the law requiring background checks for day care workers is a provision allowing employees with criminal histories to apply for a hardship exception which allows them to continue working at the day care center despite a criminal record. These exceptions are not available for other state jobs that require background checks, such as school teachers and bail bondsmen. One woman was granted an exemption by an administrative judge despite prior convictions for battery and child abuse. Seven months after she earned her exemption she was charged with trafficking in pain pills, says Broward criminal lawyer Moore. Her boyfriend at the time was charged with trafficking in cocaine and ecstasy. Additionally, state officials have cited many local day care centers with non-compliance with the background check requirements set forth in state law. As a result of these flaws in the background check system there have been several violations where children at day care centers were improperly supervised by employees with criminal records. For example, a young boy in Ocala nearly died after being left in a van by a day care employee with a lengthy theft record and a baby suffered severe burns in Lauderhill while being supervised by a woman on felony probation. DCF officials claim that they are working on fixing the state’s system for checking the backgrounds of day care employees.
“Common sense says there is no substitute for putting children in anything but a safe environment,” said Linda Alexionok, executive director of the Children’s Campaign, a child-advocacy group in Tallahassee. “No parent should ever, ever have to be worried about that.”

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