A number of low-income Illinois families who are taking advantage of that state’s subsidized childcare aren’t getting what taxpayers bargained for in the $750-million-a-year program.
The state’s Department of Human Services has done an awful job vetting workers in the program. Consequently, they paid a convicted rapist $5,000 to babysit two kids and funneled kids to caregivers living with registered sex offenders.
A Chicago Tribune investigation of the Child Care Assistance Program found more than one case of violent criminals and convicted felons being hired to watch over the state’s most vulnerable citizens. The newspaper’s investigation was prompted after it took more than a year and a half for the agency to conduct more thorough background checks of workers, as ordered by law.
The 14-year-old federal-state program was designed to help parents work their way out of poverty. The vast majority of workers in the program more than meet the minimum qualifications. But, as in the case of Cornelius Osborne, who was hired to watch his sister’s children, some people fall through the cracks.
Osborne, who had been convicted of raping two women and also had a string of other felonies on his rap sheet, submitted an application, in which he mentioned drug-trafficking but did not include the rest of his criminal background. At the time, drug-trafficking did not disqualify him from the program. Over two years, he was paid almost $5,000 to watch the kids.
The Tribune investigation showed no actual background check was run on Osborne. “At the time, the state trusted Osborne and tens of thousands of other applicants to be honest.”
The paper also found some childcare workers in the program lived in homes where registered sex-offenders also lived — something that should have disqualified them from the program.
Of course paying rapists to watch little kids, even when the kids’ mother is totally on board with it, as in the case of Osborne, is unacceptable. In an age when we can find out our neighbor’s credit score and what so-and-so wore to her senior prom, it should not be so difficult to uncover whether criminals are getting paid by the state to babysit.
Childcare costs can be daunting, even for middle-class families. The expense can be a real barrier in breaking the cycle of poverty. Subsidized childcare is a tremendous help to low-income families. But programs can’t compromise the safety and well-being of those it intends to help. The Illinois model demonstrates some of the limitations of relying on private homes to provide a service for the public good.
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