Under the Illinois DHS Child Care Assistance Program, child care is subsidized for welfare recipients. While most babysitters are above board, the state has paid sex offenders, rapists, child molesters and violent criminals to care for children.
The CCAP program, in effect since the 1990s, did not properly screen those it employed as babysitters. In 2009, crack-down legislation went into effect to weed out child care providers with felonious records. It still took 18 months to get the ball rolling.
Visiting the CCAP website, I could find little information on provider qualifications. The bulk of verification is involved with income issues: preventing parents from claiming benefits for caring for their children, making sure the provider doesn't live in the home and restrictions of financial eligibility.
The only mention of child care provider criminal history is retrospective. The initial babysitter vetting process seems cursory, as is borne out by investigations launched by the Chicago Tribune. An investigation occurs only if the babysitter's probation officer calls to report them, if the state becomes aware of past criminal history or if someone sees the offender on a public website or on television. In the case of misdemeanor assault, the conviction may also not prevent the babysitter from obtaining a child care license.
CCAP lists resources, but seems to leave most of the research to those who suspect the abuse. Little is done in the way of preventative maintenance. Also, if a child care provider is reported or discovered to have had a criminal record of felonious assault, a lengthy, complicated review must be undertaken before the care provider is removed from circulation. In one case, the care provider was only investigated because he was convicted again, this time for dealing drugs.
Welfare recipients have just as much right to quality child care as self-pay parents. Parents should not have to do their own fact-finding. Parents may be justifiably reluctant to report a caregiver. With children in the suspect provider's care, both parent and child are in a vulnerable position if they report the provider. This is especially true if the provider has a past history of violence.
I'm a former day care administrator. I launched an investigation against a day care agency for abuses I observed. It was a treacherous slippery slope. Nobody thanks you for reporting day care problems. Parents should not feel bullied by government programs or day care providers, but they often do. Parents need advocates to protect them and their children.
At the very least, the CCAP needs to step up initial background checks. Employers do routine background checks. Sometimes, job applicants are required to pay for and provide their own background checks. The CCAP as an employer and trustee of tax money, has even more reason for stricter accountability. DHS can do more exhaustive criminal background checks because it has access to more in-depth state records than the average employer.
There are thousands of people without criminal backgrounds who could provide excellent care and benefit from the program. Why are convicted felons allowed to exploit the system and prevent qualified people from using it properly? Most importantly, every child deserves to be safe in day care.
Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes from 22 years parenting four children, 25 years teaching K-8, special needs and adult education and experience as a day care administrator and parent advocate.