This happened in 2007 but it is so true today!
Over 100 child care centers in Florida are involved. Rather than order the tests, workers forged signatures on documents stating the checks had been performed.An investigation with the Department of Children and Families shows more than 100 child care centers did not have proper background checks performed on new employees. The DCF worker, rather than order the tests, forged signatures on documents stating the checks had been performed.After the investigation started it showed both employees were forging documents going back over a year.Falsifying any DCF records and documents is a felony in Florida. DCF officials said they have not pressed charges against the two yet.
DCF said their investigation showed none of the children were in any type of danger because of the forged documents.
3 WORKERS LEAVE
Preliminary investigations by DCF into its child care licensing office in Daytona Beach show DCF workers, in some cases, falsified records and forged signatures, and did not ensure that centers and homes had current background screenings in the files. Some inspections also were not done, even though reports in the file and on the agency’s website stated they had been completed. Falsifying DCF records is a felony under state law. One DCF worker, Melanie Herring, was fired in June. The other worker, Karen Smythe, resigned in June, as did the supervisor, Freneau Surguine. The office, not counting the supervisor, had three licensing workers who handled 70 to 80 cases each. One worker remains, a new supervisor has been hired, and the remaining two positions are to be filled soon. The three former workers did not return calls by The News-Journal, but Smythe told DCF during the preliminary investigation that she was overwhelmed with her own work while helping another worker and asked for help many times, but didn’t get any.
KIDS ESCAPE CENTER
One of the child care facilities in question was Beautiful Beginnings in Holly Hill, where a toddler and a 4-year-old girl walked away from the center April 13 and were gone for at least 30 minutes until they were found by a neighbor and police were called. An e-mail sent to DCF staff April 21 that sparked the investigation into the Daytona Beach office refers to an anonymous report about inspections not being done properly, including at Beautiful Beginnings. Officials at DCF said they have since found that background screenings were up-to-date for Beautiful Beginnings and the owner told DCF one reinspection had been missed in 2009. The center was fined and put on probation for the April 13 incident. DCF’s Inspector General’s Office has picked up the overall investigation into the local child care licensing office and the work by Herring, Smythe and Surguine. But preliminary reports by DCF licensing staff released to the Daytona Beach News-Journal in response to a public records request show:· Eighty-eight centers or homes did not have current background checks in their file, including, in some cases, Florida Department of Law Enforcement screenings, FBI fingerprint checks, local screenings and checks to the abusehot line. Some of the centers have since provided proof of current screenings, but they were not previously in DCF files, according to Pam Buckham, child care licensing safety program manager for the region that includes Volusia and Flagler counties;· Fifty-two centers or homes did not have a copy of the current inspection in the file, although they were in the computer system. It is unclear exactly how many were falsified, Buckham said.· Fifteen checks and a money order, some dating back to 2007, were found in drawers or files that had either not been sent to FDLE for background screenings or were not cashed by DCF for license renewals. In some cases, child care centers thought the employees had an approved background screening because the checks were sent to DCF.· In eight day care centers or homes, signatures on inspection reports were forged. Two others, DCF staff say, appear altered.
‘WORK IN PROGRESS’
DCF officials have stated that despite the problems, which they say are “horrible,” at this point they have not found any indication that child safety was compromised. But John Harrell, DCF spokesman, said not all background screenings have been completed and that it’s “a work in progress.” “I think it’s tragic,” regional safety manager Buckham said. “I think we have a job that the community expects us to do to ensure child safety and to make sure child care facilities are following the requirements. It’s devastating.” Buckham said the local office had some vacancies before discovery of the problems and she asked the supervisor if he needed help, but Surguine told them it was under control. Herring, the worker who was fired, also told DCF during the preliminary investigation that Smythe was overwhelmed and had asked for help from Surguine, but didn’t get any. Herring denied not going out on inspections, despite child care centers telling DCF she didn’t, and that they did not sign the reports. Herring was questioned about an internship she had separate from her job, and told DCF she took files home and did inspections late in the day and worked on weekends. Smythe’s file shows she admitted to officials that screenings were not always completed and she did not have time to file paperwork. Surguine had been with DCF since 1999 in different capacities; Herring worked in the child care licensing office since 2006 and Smythe since 2004. DCF staff from Tallahassee and Jacksonville are helping conduct inspections, license renewals and background screenings to ensure state requirements are being met. “We’re trying to get it all fixed and get things the way they should have been,” Buckham said. Child advocate Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said that if any records were falsified, the state doesn’t know whether conditions at certain day care centers are adequate. Wexler said most workers at DCF and at child care centers wouldn’t put children’s safety at risk, but he said if those in question did falsify or didn’t ensure files and inspections were complete it is a “severe betrayal of the trust of innocent children.”
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