By Allison Thomasseau
BOSTON - While a state audit of day-care centers found that four in North Central Massachusetts shared addresses with known sex offenders, only one of the matches presented a threat to children or violated state law.
- So instead of the fear mongering statistics of 119 by Suzanne Bump, only 1 presented a threat! And we understand, this is just one article disputing this fact, but if more media would do their jobs, maybe others would show the same thing?
Matches at 105 Plymouth St., Fitchburg, and 740 Central St., Leominster, were for day care programs that closed in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
A match in Gardner was for a center that shared an address with Mount Wachusett Community College where a sex offender worked or attended school. The center is located in a separate, self-contained building.
A final match, at 21 Summer St., Leominster, was for a day care center that moved to a new location without informing authorities. The license for that center has been revoked.
State Auditor Suzanne Bump's report (PDF), which was released last Wednesday, found a total of 119 matches between the addresses of sex offenders and the 10,528 registered day care centers in the state.
Christopher Thompson, a spokesman for Bump, said the study was part of a routine audit of the Department of Early Education and Care. He said the department was not required to do the cross checking.
"It was not required for EEC to perform sex offender registry checks. That was our initial finding," said Thompson. "We found that out, so we did the check ourselves."
Carmel Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Early Education and Care, wrote in an email that the department revoked the license of a Leominster day-care operation run by Robin Wiiniaka-Machado, formerly of 21 Summer St., after it was determined she had moved from the address on her license without informing the department, a violation of a requirement of day care providers.
Sullivan wrote that the department was unable to contact Wiiniaka-Machado before it revoked her childcare license. The sex offender who matched Wiiniaka-Machado's day care address lived in a different unit at that address.
The department's attempts to find contact information for Wiiniaka-Machado were unsuccessful.
The auditor turned over the matches to the early-education department, which investigated each case, Thompson said. In addition to Wiiniaka-Machado, three other childcare providers lost licenses: Ana Julia Minaya, of Methuen, and Diane Martin and Carmen Martinez, both of Springfield.
The report also found that of 152 randomly selected child-care workers, 15 had expired background checks. None of these workers were local.
Thomas Weber, acting early-education commissioner, said last week that the department would begin to conduct routine crosschecks of sex-offender and child-care addresses.
There is no state law preventing a sex offender from living near a day-care center. But some cities, including Fitchburg and Leominster, have passed city ordinances banning sex offenders from living 1,000 to 1,200 feet from schools, parks, or childcare centers.
Lt. Michael Goldman, of the Leominster Police Department, said police do not monitor whether sex offenders are living at the same address as a day-care center.
- So are they not checking the addresses when an offender registers?
"Our only involvement with sex offenders is registration or violations while on probation or parole," Goldman said.
However, all directors of operating area day cares that turned up in the state audit said they were aware that sex offenders lived or worked nearby.
"The problem is addressed as long as you put in the safety precautions," said Patti MacGillivray, owner and director of Pattikakes' A Place to Grow in Tewksbury, which is on the Tewksbury State Hospital campus.
MacGillivray said Pattikakes' keeps the doors locked. When the staff and children leave the center, the staff members bring two cellphones with them.
"If the staff ever see something that is suspicious, they go to the campus police," she said.
Local activists have responded to the audit by asking for more regulations against sex offenders and better access to information about sex offenders.
"We need to use the public information that's available, but that comes down on the Legislature to make more information accessible," said Laurie Myers, founder of Community Voices, which advocates for child protection and safety.
Information about Level 3 sex offenders, who are classified as high risk, is available online, but Myers said more information about Level 1 and Level 2 offenders should also be available.
"We can't wait for tragedy to act," Myers said. "We need to be proactive in protecting children and unfortunately we don't see that."
- You should always take precautions to protect those you are in charge of watching, even if the registry did not exist at all!