Child Care:

Overview of Relevant Employment Laws and Cases of Sex Offenders at Child Care Facilities

GAO-11-757: Published: Aug 19, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 2011.

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Very little is known about sexual abuse among children that are regularly cared for by more than 1.3 million child care providers every week in the United States. In this context, GAO was asked to (1) provide an overview of federal and state laws related to the employment of sex offenders at child care facilities and (2) examine cases where individuals who were convicted of serious sexual offenses were subsequently employed or present at child care facilities. To provide an overview of selected laws, GAO searched for prohibitions against offenders being present at child care facilities, requirements for conducting criminal-history checks, and penalties for violating these requirements. The cases GAO examined focus only on individuals who were convicted of serious sexual offenses and cannot be generalized to all child care facilities. To identify the cases, GAO reviewed open-source information from 2000 to 2010. GAO also compared the years 2007 to 2009 in employment databases from 20 states and the District of Columbia to data in the National Sex Offender Registry. GAO ultimately selected 10 cases from eight states and the District of Columbia for review. For each case, GAO reviewed court documents and interviewed law enforcement personnel. Our methodology was not designed to assess the prevalence of sex offenders working at child care facilities. This product contains no recommendations. Where applicable, GAO referred its cases for further investigation.

Federal laws regulate the employment of sex offenders at federal child care facilities. For example, federally operated facilities are required to conduct criminal-history checks on employees, as are facilities receiving grants from the Department of Health and Human Services' Head Start program. At the state level, laws vary widely. For example, all 50 states require criminal-history checks for owners and employees of licensed child care facilities, but many state laws exempt facilities from licensing if they do not exceed certain thresholds, such as a minimum number of children. Penalties for violating licensing requirements can range from a $5 administrative fine to imprisonment for a term of years. The cases GAO examined show examples of individuals convicted of serious sexual offenses who gained access to child care facilities as maintenance workers, spouses or friends of providers, a cafeteria worker, and a cook. At least seven of these cases involve offenders who previously targeted children, and in three of the cases, the offenders used their access to children at the facilities to offend again. Among the cases, GAO found instances of providers who (1) knowingly hired offenders and (2) did not perform preemployment criminal-history checks. GAO also found examples of facilities operating without licenses, and facilities that employed offenders while receiving federal funds. The following four cases illustrate the nature of the situations GAO identified.

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