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Originally published Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 7:10 PM

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Audit uncovers cases of sex offenders in state-approved foster homes

A report by the state auditor's office has found that 28 sex offenders had been living in state-approved foster homes and preschools and day cares operated in private homes. One school district had employed a registered sex offender as a janitor for nine years.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A report by the state auditor's office has found that 28 sex offenders had been living in state-approved foster homes and preschools and day cares operated in private homes. One school district had employed a registered sex offender as a janitor for nine years.

No children were reported to be harmed by the offenders uncovered in the audit, but it disclosed several areas of potential weakness in the state's tracking and monitoring systems. The state agencies involved terminated employees, relocated children, revoked licenses and discontinued subsidy payments as a result, according to the performance audit, which was released Wednesday. The names of the child-care facilities and schools where sex offenders were found to have lived or worked between 2002 and 2012 were not disclosed in the auditor's report.

The report found fault with the screening procedures used by both the State Patrol and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Instead of running quarterly background checks on all school employees, as legislated by law, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction had been running background checks only on teachers, counselors and nurses, but not other staff members, the audit found.

In addition, information provided to the schools by the State Patrol was incomplete or out-of-date, the audit found.

Information was most often incomplete when criminal convictions occurred in another state, the audit found.

The audit was helpful, according to the State Patrol, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"This has been a real nugget of gold for us," said Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the State Patrol. "It pointed out a potential loophole that we were able to close before the audit was even complete."

Calkins said the classification codes for certain crimes had changed and was out-of-date, which meant some sex-crime convictions were not showing up as such in the state's database.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said the audit prompted his office to correct a long-standing error in how the 2005 law requiring school-employee background checks is implemented.

"The instant this mistake was brought to my attention, I took action," said Dorn in a prepared statement. "Parents need to know that when they send their kids to school they will not come in contact with adults who could cause them harm."

The audit was launched in 2011 to determine "whether the state's most vulnerable populations, such as children in child care, foster care and public schools," would benefit from more rigorous monitoring of information from the state's sex-offender database.

Among the key findings of the report were that some licensed providers of foster care, day care and preschools allowed registered sex offenders to live in their homes without properly notifying state agencies.

In many cases, the offenders were relatives of the care providers, according to the audit.

The State Auditor's Office said the performance audit prompted the Department of Early Learning (DEL) and DSHS to convene a workshop and establish a quarterly system for comparing and matching the addresses of licensed child-care providers against the registered addresses of sex offenders.

"Even one case of a child being placed in a home where a registered sex offender may be living unbeknownst is one too many," said DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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