I-Team story "Criminals In Childcare" leads to change in state law

DCF forced to re-screen 200 people
Posted at 3:44 PM, Aug 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-09 18:36:12-04

A new childcare law strengthens the criminal background screening process for caretakers.

One state senator behind the law is giving credit to our I-Team for discovering problems with the screening process.

"It was not the law, but it is the law now," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, who chairs the state's Children, Family and Elder Affairs Committee.

She was a driving force of the new law, which recently took affect making it harder for people with criminal backgrounds to work with children.

"And if it wasn't for your investigative reporting we would not have had this lead or known about it at all," Sen. Sobel said.

Last year a series of our I-Team investigations uncovered criminals were getting second chances to work in day care and foster care. The state's Department of Children and Families calls them exemptions for criminal disqualification.

We found criminals with serious charges and convictions.

In Tampa Bay we found caretakers granted a license by DCF who had been found guilty of domestic abuse, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, federal bank robbery and prostitution.

We dug deeper into statewide cases and uncovered DCF granted 114 people who originally failed a criminal background check a license to care for children.

More than a dozen were convicted of domestic violence or ended their case in a legal compromise. Aggravated assault with intent to murder, rape, or rob, federal drug dealing, prostitution, even a sex offense were all granted a license.

In Manatee County we found someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child got a license.
In Miami Dade someone convicted of exposing them self in public got the green light to work with children.

"And with this investigative report we all the sudden found out there was some bad people say working in foster care, working even for the state of Florida." Sen. Sobel said.

The new law now puts stronger restrictions on child care criminal background screening.

Sen. Sobel says after our findings around 200 people who received a criminal exemption now have to be re-screened.
A DCF spokesperson tells us so far they have re-screened 114.

Of those re-screenings, four people who were originally granted an exemption by the state lost their license to care for children.

Those charges and convictions include sexual assault/homicide, aggravated assault with a weapon, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and domestic violence.
DCF reps tell us they still have to re-screen at least 83 more people.

State law still keeps the child care workers names exempt from public record.

Which means for every criminal exemption DCF grants, we have no way of knowing who they are.