Georgia conducts fewer background checks for day care teachers than any other Southeastern state except, in some cases, North Carolina.
Georgia requires only state criminal background checks for day care teachers, although directors and owners are supposed to have federal criminal checks, too. (North Carolina requires federal checks only for teachers who have moved to the state within the previous five years.)
“That sounds absurd,” said Chuck Thompson of Macon, whose 2-year-old son is in day care. “Day care workers and even their spouses should have criminal background checks. ... This is a no-brainer.”
A 2008 national parent poll by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies showed most parents believe day care regulation is stronger than it is. For instance, 84 percent of parents believed that all child care providers must have background checks.
In Georgia, day care directors go to local law enforcement agencies for their employees’ state criminal histories, then keep the results at the day care, said Holly A. Robinson, commissioner for the state Department of Early Care and Learning. (Directors are also the ones responsible for being sure background checks have been conducted on themselves.)
The state checks for these documents once a year. State licensing reports show it’s not uncommon for background checks to be missing at some Bibb County and Houston County day cares.
For example, in 2008 at Little People Developmental Center on Bloomfield Road, there was no criminal history check on file for the owner of the building, a state investigation found. The owner was caring for children, although his file contained the results of an administrative hearing that concluded he was not to have any contact with them.
Day cares run by the military are much more strict. At Robins Air Force Base day care centers, staff wear different-colored smocks based on their security clearance. Until their background checks are complete, they wear blue, immediately identifying that they can’t yet be left alone with children, said Pam Martinez, the day care director.
Some other states are more thorough than Georgia. South Carolina and Mississippi require full state and federal criminal checks with fingerprints, as well as checks of sex offender registries and child abuse and neglect registries. On top of that, Tennessee requires that every year a doctor or psychologist certify that each worker is physically and mentally fit to care for kids.
During the past several years, bills surfaced in the Georgia Legislature that would have required Bright from the Start to run federal background checks on day care teachers.
Robinson said her department supported that legislation, but she said it wasn’t introduced this year because it would require additional state funding.
“We find ways to spend money on needless stuff, but we can’t pay to protect our children,” Thompson lamented.
Bright from the Start requires that new day care employees certify whether they’ve ever been found to have abused or neglected a child or adult.
If an applicant admits to that kind of finding by a county Department of Family and Children Services, Bright from the Start requests the information from DFACS, said Stacey Moore, public relations director for Bright from the Start.
But under Georgia law, it’s up to DFACS whether to supply the information, she said.
Marjorie Almand, director of the Bibb County DFACS, said her department would provide it.
“But we don’t really have any communication with the state (day care officials), and I think we should,” she said.
Almand also expressed a willingness to share similar information with individual day cares that want to check out job applicants, if the potential employee signs a release.
“But nobody has ever called to ask us such a question,” Almand said.
Since 2007, Georgia has revoked several day care licenses after learning that the provider had concealed a DFACS record for child abuse or neglect.
In fact, this happened at the only day care in Middle Georgia to have its license revoked in recent years. According to records on the Bright from the Start Web site, the Houston County DFACS office concluded that Delfina Spencer had abused a foster child.
Subsequently, a child was seriously injured at her home-based day care in Warner Robins, state records show.
A Bright from the Start investigation found that when a 2-year-old fell while unsupervised in 2007 and suffered a spinal injury, the caregiver did not seek medical help.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.