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Keeping an eye on Vt. child care providers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Keeping an eye on Vt. child care providers

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WILLISTON, Vt. -

It can be tough to leave your kids with strangers. For some working parents, day care is a godsend. But how do you know who is supervising your little ones while you're away?

"It's a huge responsibility and we take several steps at the center to make sure that children are kept safe at all times," said Michelle Richling, the director of the Kids and Fitness program in Williston.

Kids and Fitness in Williston cares for 115 children between the ages of birth and 12. Sixteen full-time and 25 part-time classroom teachers staff the center. It's Richling's job to make those hires.

"On an annual basis we get about 50,000 requests from potential employers," said Dave Yacovone, the commissioner of the Vt. Department for Children and Families.

DCF has a tool to help employers, like Kids and Fitness, who deal with vulnerable populations. Vermont's Child Protection Registry is a database of substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect dating back to 1992. As of June, there were almost 17,000 individuals listed in the registry classified by the risk they pose to children.

"Every time we interview someone, whether we hire them or not, we have them fill out a records check," Richling said.

The form is submitted to DCF. The information is then checked against the database which includes: names of child abusers, as well as their Social Security numbers or date of births; the date and nature of the findings; and a risk ranking for those individuals added to the registry after July 2009.

"Unlike the sexual abuse registry which has public information on it that you or I could look up, the child protection registry is not. The Legislature did not open that up," Yacovone said.

But in an effort to keep kids safe, Vermont law allows DCF staff to search the registry whenever someone applies to be a foster parent, adoptive parent, child care provider or an employee of a youth residential care facility. DCF can also perform abuse background checks for schools and other employers whose staff provide care, custody, treatment, transportation or supervision of children and vulnerable adults.

Richling says without the registry, spotting a prospective employee with a history of abuse would be impossible.

"You can't just kind of look them up and down or even spend an hour talking with them and know that," she said.

And once they're hired, Kids and Fitness keeps tabs on its teachers, checking with DCF once a year to ensure new substantiated reports of abuse or neglected haven't popped up.

Individuals on the registry can apply to have their names removed through an appeal to the DCF commissioner after three or seven years, depending on the severity of the substantiated abuse or neglect.

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