SANTA FE >> Three registered sex offenders lived in homes that were used as childcare centers, New Mexico legislators said Wednesday.
The revelation was included in a study of childcare operations and whether they help improve student achievement in the early grades. Researchers working for the Legislative Finance Committee compiled the report.
All three sex offenders were living in homes that served as state-registered childcare centers, said Yolanda Deines, cabinet secretary of the state Children, Youth and Families Department.
Deines said in an interview that she suspended the registrations of all three childcare providers after legislative researchers told her of their findings.
She said the sex offenders probably moved in with relatives who ran childcare operations in their homes.
Deines said the state was tightening its system to make sure childcare centers were safe. This was being done in part through another $800,000 in state funding for improved oversight of homes registered for childcare, she said.
Home-based operations are more prevalent in rural areas and southern New Mexico, the report said. In contrast, 93 percent of children in Bernalillo County and 97 percent in Santa Fe receive subsidized care at licensed centers.
legislative report said another weakness of the New Mexico childcare system for home providers was that background checks did not require a comparison with the sex-offender registry.
In addition, the report said, New Mexico is one of 19 states that does not restrict where sex offenders can live. The other 31 limit sex-offender residency options, keeping them at a distance from schools and childcare centers.
Safety issues were not limited to those who committed sex crimes.
The report criticized the state’s Early Childhood Services program for merely fining licensed centers where kids had been endangered. It said civil penalties may not discourage bad or extreme practices.
One case cited in the report occurred this year at Kid’s Country Too in Dona County.
Inspectors from Early Childhood Services said they found a child “duct-taped to a chair.” ECS fined Kid’s Country $500, according to the legislative report.
Too much leniency for childcare operators was another issue raised by the researchers.
They said three of five providers whose licenses were revoked since 2006 had gotten back into the childcare business. They reopened as either registered homes or licensed centers.
As for the state’s ability to police childcare operations, the report’s authors were less optimistic than Deines.
They said the inspector general’s staff at Children, Youth and Families had been reduced from four fulltime employees to one. Moreover, it has no written work plan, the report said.
“CYFD childcare funding is at high risk for fraud, waste and abuse because of weak program integrity efforts that could lead to a potential $11 million unrecovered annually,” the research team said. “… New Mexico is identifying only a small percentage of estimated improper payments made each year for child care.”
State Sen. Howie Morales seized on this as an inconsistency in the way Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration operates.
Morales, D-Silver City, asked if federal money for childcare was less important than money for Medicaid. He was referring to Martinez’s Human Services Department cutting funding to mental health providers because of possible fraud.
Deines said Children, Youth and Families would work to correct or rectify mistakes by childcare operations, but Morales said this was not done in the case of behavioral health agencies.
Later, Deines was asked what she would say to people who criticized her agency for not being vigilant or not doing anything about deficiencies with childcare centers.
“My response is that something is being done,” she said.
She wrote a lengthy response to the legislative report in which it disagreed with a number of findings or suggestions.
“CYFD is committed to the success of our providers and ultimately the success of our children,” she stated.
The researchers suggested that the state enroll all providers for a grant program by 2016, and that it “more rapidly verify the quality of five-star providers.”
Deines said her department did not agree with this idea. She said it would continue with its own plan to enroll three levels of licensed childcare providers before January 2018.
The legislative report even challenged the effectiveness of childcare in helping kids learn when they get to elementary school.
In the 2013 budget year, the Children, Youth and Families Department spent $85.7 million to subsidize childcare for about 20,000 kids each month. Funding will increase to $95 million for the next budget cycle.
But legislative researchers said the investment was not helping academically.
“Participants in childcare assistance show no lasting improvements in early literacy levels compared with peers who do not participate,” the report said.
Numerous people at the hearing contested this conclusion as unsupported.
Members of Deines’ staff said subsidized childcare enables parents to hold down jobs, provide for their kids and pay taxes. They said the study was a snapshot of young children without any follow through of what happens to them between their days in childcare and their showing on standardized tests in third grade.
Miguel Gomez is one of the state’s leading advocates to use money from an $11 billion state endowment for early childhood education. Gomez said poverty was the greatest obstacle to literacy and student achievement, and that the research team glossed over that point.
Gomez said kids who receive a better education from infancy to age 5 would do better in school over the long term.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe Bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.
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Childcare homes also housed sex offenders
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