Excerpted from a Mississippi Today story by Chabell Carrazana

More than a decade ago, Celia Sims sat in a room with parents whose precious children had died while at day care. Most had been neglected by their caregivers. Some died from injuries, others in their sleep. 

Most of the children attended licensed facilities, and at the time, their parents believed that licensing meant providers were safe, that unqualified workers were screened out. But they weren’t. 

In the early 2010s, there was no federal requirement that child care providers undergo background checks. Fewer than a dozen states required a comprehensive check of criminal, child abuse and sex offender registries — most of the others only checked one, if that. Once these children died, police investigations revealed that providers at their care centers had past convictions for crimes like manslaughter and sexual abuse, Sims said. These people, the parents said, should not have been working in childcare, period.

The parents were outraged — and rightly so, Sims remembers thinking. It seemed so unnecessary. So preventable. 

“After that, you can’t just close your eyes and walk away,” said Sims, who was then a senior staffer for former Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican. She got to work. 

Burr and then-Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, worked with members of the childcare advocacy community to draft bipartisan legislation that would, for the first time, establish national safety standards for childcare. It would ultimately make its way into the 2014 reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the national funding mechanism. States use the money they receive from the grant to reduce the cost of care for low-income children and improve that care by implementing safety and licensing requirements. But to get the money — at least in theory — states must abide by CCDBG rules.

And those rules would be stricter than ever. The reauthorization introduced eight background check requirements that state agencies must run on childcare job applicants: two federal checks, of the FBI fingerprint and sex offender registries. Three state ones, of the criminal history, sex offender and child abuse registries. And three more interstate checks of the same state registries in any state where a provider lived during the previous five years. All of these checks were meant to screen out people with a history of crimes like child abuse, assault or endangerment. As part of the new CCDBG rules, states would also be required to post inspection reports online and collect data on serious incidents

States had until 2018 to come into compliance.

But 10 years after the law took effect, many states are still failing to uphold at least one of its components. 

According to a 2022 report to Congress analyzing the issue, at that time 27 states failed to conduct at least some, if not all, of the checks and hiring practices required by the law. Nineteen allowed staff to start working with children before background checks were completed. Nearly all of the states had been hampered by old technology systems, state bureaucracy and databases that range from incomplete to downright inaccurate. 

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