SALEM, Ore. — An audit of Oregon's Department of Human Services (DHS) found some "concerning" convictions and histories of child abuse or neglect allegations among state-approved child care providers, according to the Secretary of State's Office.
"While the vast majority of state-approved child care providers do not have criminal convictions, auditors found agencies have approved some providers with histories of concerning convictions or substantiated child abuse or neglect allegations," Secretary of State Bev Clarno's office said in a statement. "The audit also raises concerns with the state’s sex offender registry, including alarming delays in listing offenders on the public registry website."
According to Clarno's office, federal regulations set in 2017 require that DHS conduct enhanced background checks on child care providers and their staff. Those with certain criminal histories, including registered sex offenders, should be disqualified.
The audit found that both DHS and the Oregon Dept. of Education had approved some providers who had been convicted of the new list of disqualifying crimes. When those cases did come to light, Clarno's office said that they took "prompt action" to remove them — including 70 people that the agencies found themselves and 20 more found by the auditors.
"The two agencies have differing background check procedures and rules for convictions that automatically disqualify a provider," Clarno's office said. "When reviewing criminal histories, the agencies consider the length of time that has passed and other mitigating circumstances to try to balance child safety with employment rights of child care providers."
As a result, some providers were approved who had a long history of both felony and misdemeanor convictions, and some with child abuse or neglect findings in their past.
"The agencies both face information and data system deficiencies that limit their access to background information," Clarno's office said. "This includes access to abuse and neglect data, and little information on background checks for providers in preschool and school-age programs. Agencies also need to more effectively share recent abuse and neglect allegations and other pertinent information."
The audit also found that Oregon's byzantine rules for its sex offender registry, maintained by Oregon State Police, limits parents' ability to check that a child care provider's history. Moreover, some information was inaccurate, some sex offenders were excluded due to discrepancies in legislation, and the public website faces "alarming delays" in updating information.
“Parents expect child care providers to keep their children safe. We need higher and consistent standards in our background checks for child care providers and prompt improvements to our sex offender registry,” said Secretary of State Bev Clarno. “Our report provides important information and resources parents can use to help ensure the safety of their children.”
DHS issued a statement on Wednesday morning, saying that the agency agreed with the audit's recommendations and is moving forward to implement "most" of them.
“DHS thanks the Audits Division for the opportunity to rigorously explore its background check systems, and for the advocacy in improving those systems and cross-agency communication,” said Director Fariborz Pakseresht. “Our background check system is critical to ensuring the safety and well-being of children in care, and there are many opportunities for improvement, as identified in the audit.”