Monday, May 4, 2015

House Approves GOP Initiative Requiring DCF Background Checks for Hires, Child Placements

The House of Representatives has approved a proposal, offered by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and members of the House Republican Caucus, that would require the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to conduct fingerprint-based checks of the state and national criminal history databases on prospective applicants seeking to adopt or become foster parents.

The proposal, which was filed as an amendment to the House version of the Fiscal Year 2016 state budget, would also require background checks on all individuals, age 15 or older, residing in the same household as adoptive or foster parents, as well as all applicants for employment, interns and volunteers who have the potential for unsupervised contact with children in any department-approved program, including individuals who provide transportation services for such programs.

“Children are our most precious resource, but they are also among our most vulnerable residents, and the state should be making every effort possible to guarantee they are never placed in harm’s way,” said Representative Jones.  Requiring background checks similar to those already conducted by the Department of Early Education and Care will help to ensure that DCF is taking appropriate precautions in its hiring and placement process.”

A 2014 audit of DCF revealed that, in a review of 29 case files, the Department was unable to provide documentation for 48 of 63 required background checks.  The audit also showed that 25 homes matched the address of registered sex offenders.

Representative Jones’ proposal directs DCF to obtain from the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board all available sex offender registry information associated with the address of any center, home or facility licensed through the Department.

“Whether they are in the actual home or in the same apartment building, sex offenders pose a significant risk to child safety,” said Representative Jones.  “Increased oversight and stricter background check regulation policies will help to reduce those risks considerably for children who have been entrusted to the state’s care.”

The amendment, which was approved on a unanimous roll call vote of 159-0, was co-sponsored by the House Republican leadership team, including Representatives Brad Hill of Ipswich, Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleborough, Susan Gifford of Wareham, Paul Frost of Auburn and Todd Smola of Warren.  Additional co-sponsors included Representatives Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick), Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), Angelo D’Emilia (R-Bridgewater), Sheila Harrington (R-Groton), Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden), Leah Cole (R-Peabody), David Muradian (R-Grafton), Tim Whelan (R-Brewster) and Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk).