A state audit released Thursday found 30 matches when comparing the addresses of Kentucky's registered sex offenders to the addresses of state-regulated child-care centers or homes.
In its response to state Auditor Crit Luallen, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services confirmed that sex offenders on Kentucky's registry lived in 12 of the 30 homes. The cabinet could not determine the residency status of eight sex offenders. And they found that 10 others were not living at the addresses identified, according to the audit.
Luallen's audit recommended that the cabinet start cross-checking the addresses of registered sex offenders with homes the state regulates.
Cabinet officials said Thursday they would immediately implement that procedure, checking at the time of application and when renewals or reassessments occur. Current procedures include criminal background checks for people participating in state-supported programs, but state law does not require cabinet officials to match the addresses with those on the sex-offender registry.
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"The bottom line is that any time the state is responsible for the safety and security of children, we have to be sure that we are using every possible tool to guarantee that those children are secure," Luallen said in an interview Thursday.
Auditors twice compared the addresses — in June 2009 and in March 2010 — of registered sex offenders with the addresses of foster or adoptive homes, homes involved in kinship care — when relatives have temporary custody of a child — and in-home child-care providers who are registered by the state.
Children were not living at the majority of the homes at the same time as sex offenders, cabinet officials said in response to the audit.
If children were in homes with sex offenders, cabinet officials said, they took immediate action after seeing the audit.
As a result of the audit, two foster homes and seven in-home child-care providers have been closed, Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Patricia Wilson said in an interview Thursday.
Additionally, Wilson said the department took action involving two kinship-care homes. She would not discuss the specifics, citing confidentiality laws.
The cabinet has assured the well-being of all children in the cases, Wilson said.
"We do not believe that those children were harmed, and they are currently safe," she said.
Wilson said she could not say where the homes were located because of state and federal confidentiality laws.
The audit found that the Department for Community Based Services' initial response to the investigation's findings was deficient in determining whether a sex offender lived at a specific address. In every case but one, the state used food-stamp or driver's-license records instead of making home visits.
Although at least 21 of the 30 sex offenders with matched addresses were convicted of crimes against children under the age of 15, the initial cabinet review process did not include steps to make a definite determination whether the sex offender was or had been living at the matched addresses, the audit said.
"We had serious concerns about the cabinet's initial response," Luallen said Thursday. "During the first period of response over the last year or so, there were a number of the matches that were not followed up on ... . The cabinet felt that it was constrained in its existing legal authority. We thought they had the latitude to do more."
When the audit was reviewed at higher levels of management in the cabinet, the response was significant, and the end result has been positive, Luallen said.
The audit calls for stronger controls, such as a mandatory home visit by the state in cases when paperwork cannot determine whether a sex offender lives at an address. Since the audit, the cabinet has made home visits to all addresses matched in the audit, according to a news release from Luallen's office.
"The use of the sex offender registry will be a powerful additional aid to our staff to assure that sex offenders' whereabouts are known to assure that children are being cared for in safe settings," department commissioner Wilson said in her response to the audit.
Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement issued by the cabinet that he was "grateful" for the audit.
"My administration is committed to keeping our children safe, and this tool will help us lead the nation in these efforts," Beshear said.
As a result of the audit, the cabinet is working with Kentucky State Police to identify ways to streamline the sex offender registry match process to make it easier to compare addresses, officials said Thursday.
Also, a flier advertising the availability of the sex offender registry will be provided to all parents who apply for and are approved for child-care subsidies.
The audit also found that the cabinet's address records for 3,266 regulated child-care providers did not indicate a physical location. Wilson said physical addresses were in other cabinet files and they knew where the children were, but the physical addresses might differ from mailing addresses and might not appear on databases.
Wilson said the cabinet would explore ways to ensure that physical addresses and mailing addresses are recorded for those receiving benefit payments.