Report 2000-102 Summary - August 2000

Department of Social Services:

To Ensure Safe, Licensed Child Care Facilities, It Needs to More Diligently Assess Criminal Histories, Monitor Facilities, and Enforce Disciplinary Decisions

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The Department of Social Services (department), the agency that licenses and monitors child care facilities in California, must protect children's safety by using diligence and sound judgment in its oversight. State law gives the department wide discretion to decide if people with criminal histories should care for or have contact with children-wider discretion than the criminal background standards set for public school teachers. In 1999 alone, the department allowed 95 percent of those who requested criminal history exemptions-2,200 individuals-to care for or have contact with children. Although the department has wide discretion, it needs to exercise greater caution when granting criminal history exemptions. Among those the department approved were a self-disclosed nine-year crack cocaine user who claimed to have been recovered for only one year and an individual with mental disorders who had assaulted another person. In accordance with department policy, staff made exemption decisions with little or no management review. Although the department has recently acted to improve its procedures in some of these critical areas, it needs to do more to sufficiently protect children.

Another area of concern is that the department's interpretation of state law regarding Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) check requirements may have resulted in the department inappropriately issuing licenses or allowing individuals to work in child care facilities without first reviewing their FBI criminal histories. Also, the Department of Justice (Justice) does not always notify the department about subsequent arrests or convictions of individuals for whom the department has granted criminal history exemptions. Finally, the department's practice of not requiring child care facility owners, operators, employees, or adult residents to disclose their criminal history exemptions to clients leaves parents without the information they need to keep their children healthy and safe.

The department should improve how it monitors child care facilities after licensure. For example, the department's district offices do not always follow up on complaint investigations, perform all necessary facility evaluations, or conduct these evaluations within the required time. Also, the department's oversight of district and county offices is weak, thus lessening its assurance that these offices are administering the child care facility licensing program appropriately.

The department's disciplinary decisions against child care facility license holders (licensees) appear reasonable, based on our review of legal actions that resulted in negotiated settlements. Most settlements involved probation. The department's settlement process and strict probationary terms help ensure that licensees commit to correcting deficiencies. However, the department is slow to process some of its legal cases. The department's deadline for bringing action against individuals-six months after the district office's request-is hard to justify because by the time legal action is requested, the district office has already determined that legal action is necessary. Finally, although the district offices are responsible for enforcing legal decisions, the department has not given those offices clear policies to follow. Consequently, the district offices' enforcement efforts are not always timely, consistent, or thorough.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To ensure that the department does not grant criminal history exemptions to individuals that may pose a risk to children:

  • The Legislature should assess the department's level of discretion to exempt individuals with criminal histories. Additionally, to make child care criminal history standards comparable to those used for public school teachers, the Legislature should consider pursuing laws to increase the range of crimes that automatically deny a criminal history exemption.

  • The Legislature should clarify the existing FBI check requirements to specify whether an individual can have contact with children while the department conducts the FBI check.

  • The department should continue its new criminal history exemptions review procedures and expand this process to include a periodic review of a representative sample of all exemptions granted.

  • The department should exercise more caution when granting exemptions and actively consider all available information. To the extent that the department believes it needs statutory changes to appropriately carry out its responsibilities, the department should seek such changes.
To provide children with the continued protection they deserve, Justice should establish a system to track and immediately notify the department of crimes individuals commit subsequent to the department's criminal history review.

To assist parents in making informed decisions about child care facilities, the department, working with the Legislature, should:

  • Require individuals to disclose their criminal history exemptions to parents.

  • Determine the types of criminal histories and lengths of time for the disclosure requirement, such as disclosing for five years an exemption received for certain convictions and serious arrests.
To ensure that child care facilities are operating in compliance with state law and regulations, the department should make certain that all necessary complaint follow-ups occur and that it conducts facility evaluations within the required timelines.

To make certain that district and county offices licensing child care facilities are operating effectively and in accordance with state laws and regulations, the department should:

  • Periodically review each county's child care facility licensing operations.

  • Ensure that regional offices periodically and consistently assess the operations of district offices.
To more quickly process all legal cases it receives, the department should strive to shorten its goal of filing a case pleading, currently set at six months after receiving the case, and then ensure that the new goal is met.

To allow the district offices to enforce all legal decisions promptly, effectively, and consistently, the department should implement policies and procedures establishing when a district office must visit a child care facility to determine if the individual is complying with the department's decision.

AGENCY COMMENTS

Overall, the department concurred with the recommendations in this report and outlined some steps it has begun to take to implement our recommendations. In addition, the Office of the Attorney General concurred with the recommendations we made for improving Justice's processes related to child care licensing and described steps it is taking to implement those recommendations.


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