Sex offender listed same Wisconsin Dane County address as foster home

Jason Stein | 608-252-6129 | | 1 Comment | Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 8:00 pm

Dane County officials recently moved to ensure the safety of a local child after state officials tipped off the county that a registered sex offender listed the same home address as the child’s foster home.

The tip came as part of a new series of checks of foster care and kinship care homes by the state Department of Children and Families, implemented after a legislative audit found the addresses of four registered sex offenders matched those of licensed child care providers in Wisconsin.

Bob Lee, administrator of Dane County’s Division of Children, Youth and Families, said a relative providing temporary care for the local child had not informed county officials of the presence of the sex offender as required.

“It was like, ‘Whoa, (the relative) didn’t tell us about this,’ ” said Lee, who added that his agency took immediate action to make sure the child was not at risk. Lee was unable to provide more details immediately because he needed to talk with staff first.

The new review of temporary homes also found a second Dane County child living at the address of a known sex offender. However, the county had previously examined the living arrangement and approved it due to “special circumstances,” Lee said.

Lee said he believed the state had found matches in other counties, although that couldn’t be immediately confirmed.

State Children and Families spokeswoman Erika Monroe-Kane confirmed Tuesday that the department had run the address checks with databases but would not share the agency’s findings, saying only that the state is investigating the results with local partners such as counties.

After the auditors’ findings of sex offenders at child care facilities, she said, “we took immediate action to look into that same issue with kinship care and foster care to make sure children in those programs were safe. … This is something that is getting the highest attention in the department.”

The news came on the same day that Children and Families Secretary Reggie Bicha laid out for angry members of the Legislature’s budget committee the steps the department is taking to identify and root out fraud and other problems in Wisconsin Shares, the state’s $400 million-a-year child care subsidy program.

The separate foster care and kinship care programs are for children who must temporarily live apart from their parents with either licensed foster parents or relatives, who are then paid with public money to defray the cost of the care.

Lynn Green, director of the Dane County Department of Human Services, noted that counties already do criminal background checks of potential foster parents. The new state checks are designed to see whether another person living at the address — such as a relative or a boyfriend or girlfriend — is a registered sex offender.

Foster parents were previously required to disclose the other people who are living in the home but might not have done so in some cases, Lee said. Because of these latest findings, the state is now requiring counties to run the sex offender checks on all such homes, he said.

Budget committee member Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, said he was pleased the new policy was being put into place.

“The sad thing is it should have been put into place a long time ago,” Vos said.

The Legislative Audit Bureau report of child care providers released last week identified two sex offenders with the same addresses as care providers in Milwaukee County and two in Racine County. None turned up in any other part of the state.

Children and Families found that no sex offenders are now living at those addresses and took immediate steps to ensure the children were safe, officials said last week.

Bicha told the budget committee Tuesday that his agency has implemented a fraud unit and hot line and will take over responsibility for the Wisconsin Shares child care program in Milwaukee County, where most of the fraud problems have been found.

He said more changes are needed to improve the system, including allowing counties to receive a financial incentive for investigating and eliminating fraud and stronger laws to allow personal assets of violators to be seized.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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