Disturbing flaws in Florida's background screening system have put children, seniors and the disabled in the care of convicted felons with records that include rape, child molestation and murder, an investigation by the Sun Sentinel newspaper has found.
Employees of day care centers, assisted living facilities and group homes are required to undergo a background check under state law but can begin work before their screening is complete, the paper is reporting this week.
At least 2,400 day care workers were already on the job before their records turned up, including a Tampa man with this note in his screening record: "EVIL DUDE-RAPE+KIDNAP+SEX ASLT," a statewide database of screenings since 1985 shows.
Even when criminal offenses are discovered, people can still work with little more than a promise not to break the law again.
Through an exemption system created by lawmakers two decades ago, Florida has cleared more than 8,700 people with criminal records to be caregivers. They include 45 murderers, 12 registered sex offenders and 200 people with histories of harming children.
Exemptions are only supposed to be granted with proof of rehabilitation. But about 1,800 of the people approved -- or one in five -- went on to be arrested again, some within days of the state's determination that they could be trusted to care for vulnerable residents.
"It's totally unacceptable. Obviously, this has become a huge loophole that needs to be closed," said Nan Rich, D-Weston, vice chairwoman of the Florida Senate's Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee.
A sex abuse scandal at a Miami day care in the mid 1980s prompted the first of several state laws requiring background checks for caregivers and allowing for exemptions.
Florida now has a patchwork system with glaring inconsistencies.
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Report: Faulty System Lets Felons Be Caregivers