Since 1985, Florida officials have cleared 5,803 people to work with kids despite serious records, reports the St. Petersburg Times. Their ranks include former cocaine users, prostitutes, spouse abusers, burglars and, in rare instances, kidnappers and killers. The practice, now under review, gives second chances to felons who profess to have turned their lives around. Says George Sheldon, secretary of the children and families department, “we need to be consistent with the concept that people can be rehabilitated.”
The state allows the felons to work without the knowledge of the people most vested in the decision: parents. “You want to believe that people can change,” said a woman researching child care options for her infant foster son. “But you never know.”
Last year, 125,000 Floridians underwent mandatory screenings to be foster parents, day care workers, drug counselors, or other caregivers. To be disqualified, applicants had to have been guilty of serious crimes – most commonly, felony drug offenses, felony theft or domestic violence, or of misdemeanors that speak to character, such as prostitution. Background checks disqualified about 2,600. The Times describes how the state decides who is eligible to work and who isn’t.