Daycare facilities under investigation

By D.E. Pierce

A number of child day care facilities in Massachusetts have fallen under investigation after it was reported that the facilities were functioning in the same buildings as registered sex offenders, including addresses in Leominster, Worcester, and other cites and towns across the state.

A total of 119 facilities are being investigated, and in most cases, according to The Department of Early Education and Care, the children were never in danger. The agency revoked their licenses for not reporting information regarding registered sex offenders who were living in the same building. What is equally relevant is in some cases the EEC failed to keep track of child care providers to ensure they performed criminal background checks on employees.

One case, that of John Burbine, 49, of Wakefield who has recently been indicted on 100 counts of rape, which he allegedly committed in his home while his wife was running an unlicensed day-care center called The Waterfall Education Center. The operation was shut down in August of 2012 for not being fully licensed. Burbine’s wife is also being charged with six counts of reckless endangerment of a child though the prosecutor says she was unlikely aware of his crimes.

What makes this case more disturbing is according to Fox 25 news, Burbine was charged with indecent assault and battery on a child in 1989, making him a level one sex offender. Level one sex offenders are not required to be listed on the Sex Offender Registry, meaning the parents of the children under his care were unaware of his history. He was then accused in 2005 and 2009 for other crimes involving children but was never convicted. When he and his wife fell under investigation in 2012, it was reported that police found substantial evidence, including photographs and video of Burbine raping up to 13 children ranging from eight days old, to three-years-old.

Auditor Suzanne Bump, whose office is filing the investigation of said facilities, stated that there is no requirement for early education officials to do Sex Offender Registry Information checks on child care facility operators, workers, or people living in at-home day care. One consideration concerning privately run child-care facilities is the relation the future provider has with the Sex Offender Registry Board. If a providers lives in an area where a known and registered sex offender lives are they required to move their business or simply report the offender to the EEC, the Sex Offender Registry Board, or other departments, even if the offender has not committed another crime.

In 54 of the cases it was determined that although a registered sex offender shared an address with a licensed day-care facility, they were in separate units and at different times. In these instances the EEC ordered the facilities to create a system that ensured the safety of the children being cared for. This recent controversy raises questions about the effectiveness of both the Sex Offender Registry but also the system which regulates and monitors licensed child care facilities. This blunder of both the EEC and the Sex Offenders Registry Board comes only weeks after the state’s early education commissioner, Sherri Killins, stepped down from her position after her involvement in a 300-hour school superintendent training program that was allegedly distracting from her state job. This allegation was later put to rest after the state education secretary declared no “serious wrongdoing” on Killins’s part.

Governor Deval Patrick is prompting a $131 million increase in early education funding in the hopes of “whittling down” the state’s wait list for providers. Tom Weber, acting Commissioner Department for the EEC considers a different approach which includes the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security run routine checks of child-care providers alongside the Sex Offender Registry Board to prevent another mistake. Both solutions raise important points about the requirements of day-care facilities that are run by independent providers because although few of the 119 cases posed an immediate threat to the welfare of the children in the facilities, some cases, such as the Burbines’,  still raise major concern.

Despite these issues, parents can still take steps to ensure their child’s safety when left with child-care providers. WHDH notes that parents can check with their local police departments to local registered sex offenders in the area. Additionally, there are “special criminal record information requests” that allows people to see if an individual has been charged as an adult for a crime for $25.

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