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Child care centers will be checked for sex offenders

The state’s top child-care regulator is pledging increased oversight of providers after an audit revealed that four registered sex offenders were living in the same places where day care was being offered.

“Any time we receive suggestions or findings related to safety, we’re going to treat those very seriously,” said Thomas L. Weber, acting commissioner of the state Department of Early Education and Care, which licenses and oversees child-care providers.

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Weber was responding to a report released Wednesday by state Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office, which found that 119 sex offenders had addresses that matched the locations of 75 licensed child-care providers.

The offenders referenced in the statewide audit, which spanned the period from July 2010 to September 2011, were classified as Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders, meaning that person is at a moderate to high risk to re-offend.

Investigators, however, found only four of the sex offenders were actually living inside the child-care sites, and those providers’ licenses were revoked immediately, according to Weber.

Kathleen Hart, a spokeswoman for Weber, said in an e-mail that the four providers failed to report that an offender was living, or had been living, on the premises.

None of the offenders had convictions involving children, she said.

Hart identified the providers who lost their licenses as Ana Julia Minaya of Methuen; Robin Wiiniaka-Machado of Leominster; and Diane Martin and Carmen Martinez, both of Springfield.

None of the four could be reached for comment Wednesday night.

The agency determined that none of the offenders had any access to children, Hart said.

Still, Weber said, the findings are troubling, and his agency plans to begin cross-referencing sex offender addresses with those of licensed providers, which was not being done.

“We are going to take advantage of all publicly available information for sex offenders, and ensure that we are utilizing that to the best of our ability, including making the [address] matches suggested by the state auditor,” Weber said.

The audit’s release comes about three months after John Burbine, 49, of Wakefield, a convicted sex ­offender who provided home day-care services, was indicted on charges of raping and abusing at least a dozen infants and children.

He gained access to his alleged victims through his wife, who is charged with running an unlicensed day-care facility and endangering children, since she knew Burbine was classified as a Level 1 sex offender.

According to Weber and the auditor’s office, the remaining offenders’ addresses were locations where providers and offenders lived in the same building but in different units; child-care programs at community colleges or other places where an offender studied or worked in a separate area; places were child-care programs had closed; or addresses that were mistakenly identified as matches between programs and offenders.

In a statement, Bump reiterated the recommendation of the audit to cross-check offenders’ addresses with child-care providers, even though state law currently does not require such action.

“No parent who drops their child off at day care should have to worry about the safety of their son or daughter,” she said. “The presence of registered sex offenders in such proximity to groups of children is information parents, providers, and the EEC must have and act upon.”

Weber said that in the cases of offenders living in the same building as day-care providers but in different units, the providers have been directed to complete safety plans for the children.

State Representative Bradley Jones, a North Reading Republican and the House minority leader, reacted sharply to the findings.

“I am extremely disheartened that it takes reports like the one published by state Auditor Suzanne Bump to expose glaring deficiencies within certain state agencies when it comes to protecting Massachusetts’ children and families,” Jones said in a statement.

The audit also found that the early education and care department failed to ensure that some child-care providers were conducting the required background checks on their employees.

Auditors found that 15 of 152 sampled workers either had expired checks on file or no record of ever being screened.

Weber’s agency responded in the audit that seven of the 15 workers did have current background checks, but their names were misspelled in a database.

The remaining eight staffers had been checked, but their boss failed to renew screenings on time after having problems with an electronic database submission system, the agency said in a written response that appeared in the audit.

Weber’s agency now requires that an inspector review all personnel records against its electronic database to ensure that background checks are up to date, the early education department said in its formal response. His predecessor, Sherri Killins, resigned this month after revelations that she was enrolled in a superintendent training program in the town of Ware.

Martin Finucane of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@TAGlobe.
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