State Finds 40 More Cases of Wrongly Cleared Day Cares

State Finds 40 More Cases of Wrongly Cleared Day Cares

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State health officials have identified 40 more cases of day-care providers being cleared for licensing despite employees or family members having failed criminal screenings.

That is on top of the 44 cases cited in a legislative audit in October.

Most of the day cares have closed or come into compliance, but some are still under review.

Auditors had overlooked some providers because they sampled only those that had been granted written variances from the rules, said health department spokesman Steve McDonald.

The newly identified centers were given licenses without a formal variance.

Under Utah law, anyone convicted of a felony, sexual crime or violence against a family member may not operate or be associated with a day care. Misdemeanor crimes, such as theft or drug possession, can be overlooked, but only with prior approval from the health department chief.

Auditors discovered regulators illegally granted variances to 44 providers.

Cases for another 40 providers were judged to be so minor that regulators cleared the operations for licenses without issuing variances.

McDonald said regulators were complying with rules crafted in 1999 that allow for consideration of extenuating circumstances, such as the severity of the crime or passage of time since it occurred.

But in their October report, auditors said those rules probably were illegal, prompting health officials to withdraw them.

Now the only way to get around a failed criminal screening is to have the offender's record expunged through the courts.

That's a hardship for small, neighborhood centers, especially in rural areas, say some child care professionals and their clients.

"I'm not defending high-risk criminals. I applaud the efforts to protect children and weed out those who have no business being in the day-are business," said parent Lisa Roman of Moab. "But things are not always just black and white."

Roman, who has three children, made use of Tami Woodruff's in-home center.

Woodruff's nine-year track record and glowing recommendations from townspeople assured Roman she was making the right decision, and she has no regrets.

But Woodruff faces losing her license because two years ago she married a man with a 15-year-old assault charge on his record.

Woodruff said her husband punched a drunk driver who was rear-ending his Jeep during Moab's annual Jeep Safari.

Woodruff says her husband works and has little contact with children under her care. But because he lives in the home, regulators say their hands are tied.

Roman said, "There is not an abundance of day care providers in our little town, and I don't relish the prospect of traumatizing my son with changing his day care setting."

Dr. Marc Babitz, a family physician hired by the health department to improve child care regulation, is unapologetic.

"It's hard for me as a parent to justify letting people who have made bad judgments resulting in criminal convictions continue to be involved in day care," he said.

"That's not to say people can't atone for their sins. But they have that option through the courts," he said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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