A state audit found that the Maryland State Department of Education did not conduct routine but critical inspections of child care facilities and failed to follow up on red flags raised by background checks of staff working for the programs.
The audit, released Tuesday by the state's Office of Legislative Audits, found that the department did not perform 31 mandated inspections of child care facilities in the region, primarily in Baltimore and in Prince George's County. The inspections "ensure that child care facilities protect the general health and safety of children under their care," such as supervision and cleanliness, according to the audit.
Several other inspections were not done on time. Regulations require the state to conduct at least one unannounced inspection of each child care facility per year.
State officials said they have put in new controls and strengthened existing ones as a result of the audit, which examined the department's operations from July 2008 through June 2011.
"Our inspections are taken seriously, and we must and have improved that area," said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Department of Education, adding that there were significantly fewer problems flagged in this audit than in the previous one.
Now, Reinhard said, the department requires that all inspections be scheduled at least 30 days in advance of the "anniversary mark" on the license.
Auditors also noted that state officials did not regularly ensure that staff working in child care facilities had criminal background checks or that the workers were properly entered in a database that would provide an alert if they committed a crime during their employment.
Additionally, auditors found that the state was not following up on some alerts it received. Auditors said that in a review of 25 alerts, the state failed to properly document any follow-up on 12.
The state said in its response that it put systems in place to ensure that employment records are reviewed annually and that all employees have criminal background checks.
The state was able to close nine of the alerts brought to its attention, officials said in a response to auditors, but three remained unresolved.
The state also now requires documentation, such as payroll records, from regional offices to ensure that any employee who is flagged in criminal background checks is no longer employed or associated with the child care program.
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