Starting this month, new day care workers in Oklahoma are being required to undergo national criminal history background checks that include fingerprints.
The criminal background and fingerprint checks gradually will expand to include all existing day care employees by the end of 2015, according to Sheree Powell, Department of Human Services spokeswoman.
“It's going to be great as far as the safety of the kids in our state is concerned,” said Kathy Cronemiller, president of the Oklahoma Child Care Association.
Registered sex offenders are banned by law from working in day care facilities. DHS also has policies that prohibit people convicted of certain violent crimes and drug offenses from working in day cares, although waivers sometimes have been granted depending on the crimes and circumstances.
State criminal background checks through the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation have been required in the past, but they did not necessarily catch day care employees who moved to Oklahoma after having committed crimes in other states. Such employees often would lie about their out-of-state criminal behavior on their applications.
The new system should catch those people, Cronemiller said.
Another strong feature of the new system is that once fingerprints of employees have been obtained, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services will be notified within 24 hours if any of those employees are arrested or convicted — even if in other states, Cronemiller said.
The changes, which are the result of legislation passed in 2011, already are having an impact.
Cronemiller said day care owners are reporting that some employees have quit because they know their criminal backgrounds will become known.
One major drawback is cost. Each national criminal background and fingerprint check costs $53 and that is often an obstacle for new employees.
Cronemiller, who operates six Oklahoma City day cares that care for 1,425 children, said she plans to pay for the background checks for her employees, as long as they stay at least six months, but not all day care operators will be in a position to do that.
However, day care operators may come out ahead financially in the long run because, Cronemiller said, she expects insurance premiums to go down.
DHS officials said in a news release that day care employees will submit fingerprints through live scanning machines located throughout the state and results will be transmitted electronically to the licensing records office.
Public pressure to conduct better background checks mounted after Joshua Minton, 2, of Sperry died in 2007 after Tulsa home day care provider Vicki Chiles taped his mouth shut and bound his hands because he was making noise during nap time. A review of the death found DHS had violated its own policies by failing to close the home earlier after Chiles admitted striking another boy with a fly swatter. The state paid $700,000 to settle a lawsuit over its actions.
After Joshua's death, The Oklahoman revealed DHS had granted waivers to more than 90 former criminals — including a cop shooter, admitted child abusers and prostitutes — to enable them to work, operate or be present in day cares.