When I read this article I was almost stunned beyond words. I said almost because that is the MO of CPS. They pull children from families who are poor and uneducated threaten, harrass and beret them until they sign over their children- but then they turn around and allow this to happen. The time has come to expose this corrupt system for what it truely is- a baby mill of buying and selling children for money to go in the cofers of the State.
day care licenses
State Still Puts Kids In Felons’ Hands
DCF says second chances deserved, but parents often not informed.
By REBECCA CATALANELLO
ST. PETERSBURG TIMES
Published: Monday, December 14, 2009 at 1:44 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 14, 2009 at 5:55 a.m.
TAMPA | Dorothy Sampson-Monroe, convicted three times of felony cocaine possession, wanted to work in child care.
Four years ago, the state let her.
Right away, parents accused her of bruising an infant’s brain. Her insurance company paid the medical bill, the parents’ lawyer said. This year, police said she hit four children at her Just For Kids day care center. But the cases were weak, and prosecutors dropped them.
Once again, Sampson-Monroe can legally care for children.
So can thousands of other Floridians with criminal pasts.
Since 1985, the Department of Children and Families has cleared 5,803 people to work with kids despite serious records. Their ranks include former cocaine users, prostitutes, spouse abusers, burglars and, in rare instances, kidnappers and killers.
The practice, currently under review at the state’s highest levels, gives second chances to felons who profess to have turned their lives around.
“This is the Department of Children and Families,” explained agency Secretary George Sheldon, “and I think we need to be consistent with the concept that people can be rehabilitated.”
But the rehabilitation gets tested in the nap rooms and play rooms of some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
And the state allows it without the knowledge of the people most vested in the decision: parents.
“You want to believe that people can change,” said Janna Lindstrom of Valrico, who recently began researching child care options for her infant foster son. “But you never know.”
Last year, 125,000 Floridians underwent mandatory DCF screenings to be foster parents, day care workers, drug counselors or other caregivers.
To be disqualified, applicants had to have been guilty of serious crimes – most commonly, felony drug offenses, felony theft or domestic violence, or of misdemeanors that speak to character, such as prostitution.
Background checks disqualified about 2,600.
Some successfully appealed, including 52 prospective child care and foster care workers from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties who persuaded DCF to overlook their convictions.
They came with cleaned-up lives, conviction-free for at least three years.
CLEARED TO CARE
No one had set special conditions on Sampson-Monroe when she was cleared in 2005. She was a church-going woman with references, and a decade had passed since her last conviction.
“If I had the legal grounds to revoke the exemption, I would do so,” said Cox, who took over as DCF’s regional director after Sampson-Monroe was approved.
It doesn’t matter that Sampson-Monroe, now 48, has been booked by police on child abuse charges twice since opening her business.
The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute. The timing of the infant’s brain injury could not be firmly established. The other children did not show injuries consistent with having been hit.
When the case fizzled, so did the temporary court injunction DCF obtained to keep Sampson-Monroe from working in child care.
The county shut down her business in June, alleging she gave incorrect information on her license application.
But nothing stands in her way of getting a job elsewhere.
A Times reporter visited Sampson-Monroe at her home for this story. She declined to be interviewed.
It’s unclear whether she now cares for children in any capacity.
Lindstrom finds it shocking that felons get state approval to work with children.
“I had no idea,” the 38-year-old legal assistant said.
While researching child care, she learned to inquire about staff members’ educational qualifications and hand washing procedures. Did they talk to kids at eye level? Did the place seem cheerful, clean and safe?
No one mentioned felony records.
“They only screen people every five years?” she said with dismay as she flipped through files on her first-choice day care at Hillsborough County’s child care licensing office.
For parents, checking up on child care workers can be expensive and time-consuming. Some day care centers have 10 or more workers. Comprehensive statewide arrest reports cost $24 apiece.
DCF files on felons cleared to work with kids are considered public records.
The agency typically redacts criminal information but accidentally released complete records last year to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The newspaper posted a searchable statewide database online this summer, as part of sweeping investigation called “Trust Betrayed.”
State government doesn’t offer parents the same service.
That’s disheartening to Lindstrom.
Her two older sons’ schools notify parents even when teachers deliver subjects outside their field, she notes. If that sort of transparency is required, why not inform parents about child care workers?
As critics pay more attention to the criminal records of people who work with children, DCF has exerted tighter control over granting of exemptions.
Agency Secretary Sheldon recently decided he would have the final say on whether to grant an exemption. He thinks criminals shouldn’t be eligible until five years after a prison sentence ends. Currently, the law says three years after their last offense. That means someone sentenced to five years could be eligible while still in prison.
[ Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. ]