Who's watching your children?

By Nolan Clay, Randy Ellis and Ryan McNeill Modified: November 23, 2007 at 8:22 am •  Published: October 28, 2007
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© Copyright 2007, The Oklahoman

The state is gambling that a cop shooter, admitted child abusers, prostitutes and dozens of other former criminals are reformed enough to be around day care children, an investigation by The Oklahoman has found.

And parents are kept largely in the dark.

The Department of Human Services has a policy barring certain former criminals from ever operating, working in or being in day cares. But they can ask for exemptions from the ban and, more often than not, DHS consents, The Oklahoman found.

Exemptions have gone to former dope dealers and guys who beat their ex-wives or girlfriends, records show. Many were guilty of violent crimes. One exemption went to a former robber who went to prison four times and was described as “a violent, deceiving criminal certainly prone to continued crime.”

DHS Director Howard Hendrick said he thought his agency gave exemptions — called waivers — mostly to rehabilitated drug offenders and people convicted of property crimes.

“We can look into that,” he said of The Oklahoman’s findings. “Persons shouldn’t be getting waivers that ... we have any reason to believe would create risks for kids. ...That’s the way it should be.

“I don’t think the policy’s necessarily a bad policy. The problem ... may be ... it may be inappropriately applied in a particular case.”

The official who granted the waivers was Janice Matthews, licensing coordinator for the DHS child care division. She declined comment.

Hendrick said: “The belief is that people can change. ... People can improve and so I think we want to try to get recommendations and references to know what the current state of their character is as opposed to what may have been their character at some prior time.”

In almost half of the waivers examined by The Oklahoman, the crimes were more than a decade ago. Most applicants sent in letters from friends, bosses or preachers about the positive changes made in their lives. Some pointed out they wouldn’t be around the children and needed waivers only so their wives could run day cares out of their homes.

The Oklahoman this year launched an investigation of DHS because of continuous complaints from the public that the agency too often fails in one of its chief missions — protecting children.

As part of the inquiry, the newspaper looked at the practice of giving exemptions to former criminals so they could be in day cares. Reporters examined hundreds of pages of records. The Oklahoman found:

DHS gave exemptions to more than 90 former criminals between Jan. 1, 2006, and July 19, 2007. About 50 were denied in that same time, officials said.

The only official notice parents are given that a criminal will be in their child’s day care is the DHS waiver letter. Owners are required to post the letters in their businesses. The letters do not reveal the types of crimes committed.

Some day care owners said they told parents about the crimes. Others said they haven’t and that parents never ask for details.

Some owners complained to DHS about the requirement. “We are good people,” wrote one owner, a former drug user, who got a waiver 10 years ago. “Please don’t make the community think less of child care workers.”

Many of the exemptions were for serious or repeat offenses. Almost half involved some kind of violence, including three in which children were hurt. DHS waivers Interactive database



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