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The screening methods used to qualify babysitters for a state-run childcare subsidy program in Illinois were so inadequate that in several instances children were placed with registered sex offenders or individuals previously convicted of assault, drug and weapon possession crimes, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Child Care Assistance Program, a $750 million-a-year service that provides babysitting services for more than 150,000 Illinois families, first came under scrutiny in 2008 after trends emerged in Cook County courtrooms where repeat offenders increasingly mentioned their babysitting jobs, according to the Associated Press. An investigation by the division’s policy analyst found that unlicensed babysitters--some 60,000 of the 70,000 care providers on the program’s payroll not required to be licensed if they are watching three or fewer unrelated children--were approved without full background checks, the Tribune reports.
These findings prompted legislation enacted in 2009 requiring stricter background checks for non-relative babysitters. But the scrutiny the new law required didn’t become practice for nearly 18 months, according to the Tribune. Meanwhile, 83 state-paid baby sitters were living at addresses where sex offenders were registered, including one registered sex offender who had already received almost $5,000 for child care services from the state, the Tribune reports.
Faults in the 14-year-old program's screening process stem from its reliance on applicants to self-report their criminal history accurately, the use of an incomplete database to screen applicants, and infrequent comparisons of registered baby sitters' addresses to sex offender lists, according to the Tribune. Information about parolees and other ex-offenders is even less readily available.
The state's Human Services department said it will explore how to do real-time checks of prison databases in response to the investigation's finding, the Tribune reports, though cross-referencing multiple data systems could be a challenge.