This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
For years now the state has maintained a registry of sex offenders and where they live. But apparently no one thought to match that registry against the addresses of those who provide child care or foster care.
That was an unfortunate oversight, because a new state audit reveals that sometimes those addresses do overlap.
The audit, which began about 18 months ago, found 28 instances of registered sex offenders living in child care or foster care settings since 2002. In 24 of the cases, the care provider had concealed the offender’s presence from social service oversight.
The audit also looked at whether all school employees were being checked against lists of sex offenders as required by law and found that they weren’t: Since 2005, only teachers and other classified school employees such as counselors and nurses were being vetted. Fortunately, only one unclassified school employee was found to be a sex offender – a janitor who worked at a Seattle high school for nine years after a sex offense conviction.
Another important finding is that the Washington State Patrol was not providing the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction with all necessary background information, including names of sex offenders convicted outside the state of Washington.
The agencies involved have responded the way they should: By coming up with new procedures to better track sex offenders and by cracking down on the care providers who were harboring them. Licenses were revoked, subsidies were discontinued and, in some cases, new placements were found for foster children. Some caregivers have been disqualified from providing services; others have been flagged to show that they will get extra scrutiny should they attempt to provide future services.
The OSPI is now checking all school employees, social service agencies are now comparing sex offender and care provider addresses on a quarterly basis and the State Patrol has updated its conviction data.
Making these fixes is important for two reasons: protecting children and protecting taxpayers. Keeping better track of where sex offenders live and ensuring that it’s not with vulnerable populations means fewer big lawsuits against state agencies charged with protecting them.