MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wisconsin will soon join the majority of states that require FBI background checks for child care providers, their employees and household members in a move advocates say is an important step in making sure criminals don't slip through the cracks.
Wisconsin requires state criminal background reviews conducted by the state Department of Justice, but it has not yet joined the nearly three dozen states that require FBI fingerprint checks for child care providers, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
That will change in January when a provision in the state budget takes effect.
Child Care Aware of America, an advocacy group for parents and child care providers, says background checks have limited value unless they are based on fingerprints because criminals may use aliases. The organization, based in Arlington, Va., recommends both a state criminal background check and an FBI fingerprint check, in addition to reviewing sex offender and child abuse and neglect registries.
"With just doing one of those, a lot of folks can fall through the cracks," said Michelle Noth McCready, CCAA's director of policy.
McCready cites a 2012 case involving a Virginia infant who died at 13 weeks while in the care of her baby sitter. Camden Lafkin's parents ran a state court record check before placing their daughter in the baby sitter's care and found nothing unusual, McCready said. It wasn't until after their daughter died that they paid for a background check using the caregiver's Social Security number and found a number of aliases and a list of civil and criminal charges.
Virginia requires a state background check only - and only for providers caring for more than six children.
"A fingerprint check would have matched her true identity," McCready said.
Thirty-five states require FBI fingerprint checks for licensed child care centers, according to the DHHS inspector general's report, and 33 states require them for licensed family home child care providers. The DHHS review looked specifically at requirements for child care providers whose clients receive financial assistance from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. It found states did not always meet federal Administration for Children and Families standards, which include FBI fingerprint checks, the inspector general said.
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families began requiring fingerprint-based background checks on a limited basis in 2011. Child care providers who had lived outside Wisconsin during the previous three years were subject to the checks.
The requirement expands in January to all child care providers, household members and child care center employees.
The state conducted 97 fingerprint-based background checks in 2011 and 98 in 2012, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. With about 6,000 licensed child care providers who have roughly 3,000 employees and household members, the fiscal bureau estimates more than 9,000 checks will be done during the next two years to satisfy the new law. Providers pay $31.50 per check, with the fee split between the DOJ and FBI.
McCready said more states have adopted stricter background check requirements for caregivers in recent years.
"We're finding that the state (checks) aren't sufficient," she said. "There's a growing understanding of the need for accountability when you're working with the most vulnerable."
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