Election Section

Parents must be notified of day care providers’ criminal histories

The Associated Press
Saturday April 06, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Child care providers must tell parents their workers’ criminal histories, but they aren’t allowed to reveal the nature of their crimes, troubling parents and providers alike. 

About 2 percent of the 275,000 licensed child care workers in the state, including cooks, gardeners and administrators, have criminal convictions. Most of them are for misdemeanors, such as shoplifting and check fraud. 

But CBS News won the right in state appellate court in August to examine the names of those who had been convicted of crimes and where they worked, and the Orange County Register ran a series about convicts who were working as day care providers, but who should have been ineligible to work with children. 

Getting a license involves fingerprinting and a check against the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice databases. The state can grant a license to someone with a conviction if it determines the person is not a threat to children. 

Following the news reports and the lawsuit, Gov. Gray Davis suspended exemptions for six months and ordered a review of the background check process. The state Department of Social Services, acting on directions from Davis, then ordered providers to notify parents immediately about staff members with criminal records. 

The Social Services Department said 6,156 people in day care in California have exemptions. 

Davis is committed to the moratorium while the department conducts a review. 

“He has always believed that parents should have more information rather than less information in trying to make a decision about what’s best for their families,” said Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean. “He’s not going to change his mind.” 

Some parents say they are conflicted about a person’s right to privacy and the safety of their children. 

Claudia Menjivar, who has a 4-year-old in day care, told the San Jose Mercury News that she would be disturbed to find out if someone at her daughter’s day care center had been convicted of a crime. 

“And if you don’t know why, you’re left with a doubt. So why give out the information if you can’t fully inform people?” 

Not all day care centers have started informing parents. On the advice of attorneys, Rosie Kennedy, president of the San Francisco Family Child Care Association, which represents home-based day care centers, said she is advising members not to notify parents, saying it would “generate unfounded fears.” 

To address the problem of inadequate information, state Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, is drafting legislation that would let parents get information on the specific crimes committed upon request. 

Centers that do not comply can be cited and fined $100, and it is also grounds for revocation of the license, said Andrew Roth, spokesman for the Department of Social Services. 

The state will know who has complied by looking in children’s files, where there should be a form signed by parents acknowledging that they have been given the information, Roth said.