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New Background Check Procedure For Daycare Operators

Earlier this month, Montana lawmakers heard from the Department of Public Health and Human Services about a troubling audit report which said the state’s largest division had not detected sexual or violent offenders living at the same addresses as childcare providers.

That audit report, prepared by the Legislative Audit Division, said that auditors found three instances where offenders listed on a publicly available database lived at the same locations as the childcare provider, including one that was still operating.

Auditor Sarah Carlson told the Legislative Audit Committee that during her investigation she reported the findings to the department, but employees there said they could not act on the information because it wasn’t filed as a complaint or an official report.

DPHHS director Charlie Brereton took responsibility for the report and said steps have been immediately implemented to make sure the pattern does not repeat.

“This should not be happening and this should not have happened,” Brereton said before the Legislative Audit Committee. “We will not let this continue to happen. You have my word.”

Brereton outlined the steps the department plans to take and has already taken in response to the audit report. He said that DPHHS has partnered with the Montana Department of Justice for ways that the Sexual and Violent Offender Registry can be checked more comprehensively.

Department officials explained that previously they only followed up when there was a report filed; and they only checked for names, but not addresses in the SVOR database. Brereton said both of those procedures were changed immediately, ahead of other changes the department outlined for lawmakers in its formal response. All the changes involving checking providers and offenders are projected for completion by the end of this calendar year.

Carlson said that when she and her team first discovered the problem, they reported it to staff. She described a general sense of confusion whether the department had the authority to launch its own investigation, or whether it had to wait for a complaint.

“Staff told me they didn’t receive what they needed to (in order to investigate),” Carlson said.

Legislative Audit Committee chairwoman Rep. Denise Hayman, D-Bozeman, asked if that meant DPHHS did not investigate the instances which auditors flagged.

“Yes,” Carlson said. “Well, something is really, really wrong,” Hayman said.

Officials with DPPHS said that staff in the department have been trained, and communication has been altered in order to ensure a similar situation doesn’t occur.

“We believe we have the ability to ask and follow without any formal (complaint),” said Erica Johnston, economic services executive director for DPHHS.

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