State day care regulator fires back at federal audit on criminal checks

The state’s day care regulator fired back at a federal report released Friday that said Georgia will miss a key deadline requiring that it conduct national criminal background checks on child care workers.

Difficulties with staffing, funding and coordination with other states will keep the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning from putting its full system in place by the Sept. 30 deadline, according to the audit report by the watchdog for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It may not be completed until as late as 2020.

But state officials replied that they are fully staffed and funded, and the federally required criminal background check system is up and running. It has already completed an estimated 80,000 checks in the past two years, said Ira Sudman, Chief Legal Officer of the state Department of Early Care and Learning.

For the most part, “Georgia will be fully compliant in October 2018,” Sudman said.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General stressed that its report reflected the state’s progress as of March, when the audit took place.

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“We will continue to monitor the state agency’s actions and progress toward implementation of the new criminal background check requirements,” the agency said in a written statement. The report acknowledged that Georgia complied with most federal rules.

A 2014 federal law requires states to put into place comprehensive criminal background check systems for current and prospective child care workers. No state met the original Sept. 30, 2017 implementation deadline, the audit said. All were granted wavers.

The delays were the fault of the federal agency, Sudman said.

“If the federal government worked with states prior to achieve this, we probably would not have this chaos,” Sudman said.

Georgia law already requires childcare workers to submit their fingerprints to a Federal Bureau of Investigation database. Federal rules call for additional checks with out-of-state law enforcement for workers who lived outside of Georgia in the past five years. Checks must be completed in 45 days.

Sudman said his agency completes most of its checks within 72 hours. An estimated 10 to 15 percent fail to meet the 45 day deadline because of delays obtaining criminal background information from out-of-state agencies, he said.

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